ONE atomweight champion Angela Lee suffered serious injuries in a car crash in 2017 that could have ended her career. Now, six years later, Lee revealed that crash was no accident. She was trying to take her own life.
On Tuesday, the 27-year-old Hawaiian fighter published a powerful article detailing her struggles with mental health, which led to a suicide attempt in the days leading up to a scheduled fight.
According to Lee, she was enduring a very difficult weight cut and her body wasn’t reacting in the way she needed to drop the extra pounds before her fight. The situation eventually turned dire, as Lee desperately searched for a way out so she wouldn’t have to compete and possibly disappoint everyone by failing to make weight as the champion.
“My car crash in November 2017 was not an accident. It was a suicide attempt,” Lee said in an article penned for The Players’ Tribune. “I was getting ready for my last title defense of the year, things started to snowball for me. Pressure, stress, and expectations all began to build up. I had tunnel vision and thought that this upcoming fight was the most important thing in my life. Looking back now, I had everything I could have wanted at the time, but I didn’t realize it. Didn’t fully appreciate it. Because I had gotten to a place where making weight for that fight was the biggest thing in the world to me.
“I told myself: If you don’t get this done, you’ll lose everything. And, as an athlete, in all honesty, that mentality can be useful and motivating. But it’s also a double-edged sword. And, with me, I got to a point where I had pushed my mind and body too far. I couldn’t stop thinking about the shame that would result if I wasn’t able to make the fight. As someone who had never missed any competition in her entire life, that terrified me. It became all-encompassing. And, ultimately, I got to a point where I would rather take myself out of the equation than deal with what might come. That’s where my head was at. It was all or nothing.”
With 12 pounds to lose, Lee confessed that she attempted to injure herself so she couldn’t fight. She first tried to break her own arm before attempting to give herself a concussion.
When that didn’t work, Lee decided to take a late-night drive around a perilous stretch of highway in Hawaii that would allow her to just end it all with one turn of the wheel.
“I just pressed my foot all the way down on the gas pedal. As far down as it would go,” Lee said. “I don’t know how fast I was going. But it was as fast as my car could move. I wanted to hit the guardrail as hard as I could, and I just remember turning the steering wheel and swerving and then hitting something, and then it was just … rolling. Rolling and rolling and rolling.
“When I opened my eyes, I was upside down. There was shattered glass everywhere. I remember waiting around in that car for a good bit of time, hanging upside down, just basically trying to process everything. Like…. Am I still here? Am I alive?”
In the aftermath of the car crash, Lee says that only her husband knew the truth of what happened.
It took her months to finally reconcile what happened as she tried to rebound from the attempted suicide.
“Everything about this healing process has been a challenge, of course,” Lee said. “It has been far from easy. But with each time that I share my story with another person … I still cry. Tears still fall. My voice still trembles. But, each time, it gets a little bit better.
“At this point, I’m just trying my best each day, and every day that looks different. But I’m OK with that. I realize now that I’m only human, we all are. We aren’t meant to live a perfect, spotless life. I’ve come to learn that this life, it’s life. It’s about growing and learning to accept yourself. Some days are good, some are tough, but each day I choose to keep fighting. There are still many tough days. But how I navigate through those days is a lot better now. A lot healthier. I have tools to use and people I can count on to let them know how I’m feeling.”
More recently, Lee has started focusing her efforts for better mental health into a non-profit she launched called Fightstory, where people can share their own personal battles with each other. The inspiration to start the non-profit came from her own experience as well as the tragic passing of her 18-year-old sister Victoria Lee just over nine months ago.
“On Dec. 26, 2022, my younger sister, Victoria, took her own life,” Lee revealed. “Fightstory was inspired by Victoria and the remarkable life that she lived at just 18 years old. Fightstory is just as much hers as it is mine. It’s something we created together, to save lives and to try and make the world a better place. We want people to know that although you may feel lonely in your fight with mental health, you are not alone.”
Lee remains steadfast in dealing with her own mental health, while also trying to help others facing similar issues and sending out a message of support for anyone who needs to hear it.
“If you are struggling right now, if you are in a dark place, if you are contemplating ending your life, let us be the ones to say, we understand. We know how you feel,” Lee said.
“It’s not about being strong all the time. You don’t need to fake it or pretend that everything is OK. There is so much strength in honesty and in asking for help. And we all can be there for each other.”