According to Wikipedia Pallas Athena is "the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, just warfare, mathematics, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, and skill."
According to the shooters that know her, and as evidenced by the numerous trophies she's won, Athena Lee is the goddess of "speed, open division pistols, humor, definitely strength, the cooking arts, bacon, and, of course, shooting."
Born and raised in the southern part of the Philippines, Athena Lee may not be as well known as some other women shooters, though not for a lack of accomplishments - because Athena's are many.
Just like with most top women shooters their notoriety, or lack there of, is due to the shooting sports' general lack of skill in promoting its champions. So you're excused for not knowing much or anything about her.
But, Athena Lee is one champion you really should know.
Athena Lee is among the top female shooters in the world. Given enough time and ammo, she'd be among the top shooters, period. Photo: P. Erhardt
She is either something of a shooting prodigy or simply incapable of comprehending what can't be done. In December of 1991, while attending a Steel Challenge match with her father, Athena got bored and asked to try shooting for the first time.
Taking her father's single-stack 38 Super open pistol she took on Smoke & Hope and basically swept the stage...then (accidentally) the crowd as she turned to proclaim how easy it was.
Two weeks later, after lots of practice, and probably no shortage of firearms handling safety instruction, Athena competed in her first Steel Challenge competition, finishing second high lady.
Not bad for a 13-year-old girl just two weeks into her shooting career.
Five years into her shooting career and she'd place 13th in the IPSC World Shoot. Eight years into her career and Athena's individual world championship win would lead the Filipino women to a Team Gold medal, marking the first time the Philippines defeated the U.S. women at the World Shoot.
Getting from 'I'm bored, can I shoot?' to winning a world title eight years later doesn't happen without coaching, and that job fell to Athena's father, Nelson Lee.
Recognizing that his daughter had both the skill and the competitive drive to be a shooter, Athena's father focused on developing her shooting talents. It wasn't long before she was very competitive and winning High Lady titles.
And it wasn't long after that Athena was winning matches outright, which, in a culture infused with deep-seeded male pride that comes from 300 years of Spanish colonial rule, let's just say she wasn't always popular.
To keep pushing Athena's development as a shooter, her father took to coaching a young male shooter his daughter could train and compete against, always forcing her to shoot at a higher level.
This explains why if you were to ask Athena about winning not just the women's title but the entire match, the response you'd get is that, given the time to train and the ammo, she doesn't doubt that she could win the overall title.
As Athena improved she rose up through the ranks and in 1996 competed in her first IPSC World Shoot. Held in Brazil, Athena would finish 13th among the women, putting her well on her way down the path of becoming the top female shooter in the Philippines.
At the 1999 World Shoot, hosted by the Philippines, Athena led her teammates to victory and the beginning of the high water mark in the history of women's practical shooting in the Philippines (which lasted through the 2002 World Shoot). Athena took the individual gold, but more importantly for national pride purposes her team won the gold over the nearly always dominant U.S. shooters.
Though she is best known as an open division shooter, Athena is transitioning to iron sights with an eye towards additional titles and other shooting disciplines. Photo: P. Erhardt
Despite the importance of Athena's and the team's win in 1999, her shooting career in the Philippines began to wind down as total gun bans were enacted with each election and - as with most things - politics within the shooting community reared its ugly head.
Even though she won the title of the world's top female shooter, Athena was required to qualify to make the 2002 team to defend her own title. The issue wasn't having to qualify, which she was fine with. The issue was that this was a new procedure and was not required of the top women in previous years.
The new policy, which required her to compete in a handful of top matches and finish within 90% of the top male shooter, gave Athena the distinct impression that she was not wanted on the team and it almost drove her out of shooting altogether.
However, Athena persisted and was on her way to meeting the newly instituted qualifying requirement when the powers-that-be called and informed her that she was now guaranteed a slot on the basis of being the defending world champion.
While all this drama was playing out Athena began looking at the U.S. as a possible new home. In 2001 she spent a year in America living with J.J. Racaza and his family. Which of course gave her the opportunity to train with J.J. under the tutelage of J.J.'s father.
It was also in 2001 that Athena picked up her long-time sponsor Johnny Lim and became part of the legendary Team Limcat. Lim, who operates out of Reno, Nevada, is the gunsmithing patron saint to many of the top Filipino shooters. Go to any major match in America and you are likely to find an entire squad of Filipino shooters sporting Limcat pistols and outfitted in Team Limcat jerseys.
Johnny Lim's support and generosity has played a major role in Athena's career and she, like other Team Limcat members, speaks of Johnny with great fondness the likes of which other sponsors can only dream of from their shooters.
During 2001 Athena did make time to return to the Philippines and pick up the High Lady title at the national championship where she not only finished within the required 90% of the overall winner but 7th overall...thank you very much.
But her time in America only strengthened her resolve to leave the political drama back home and the 2002 IPSC World Shoot marked the final time Athena Lee would shoot as a representative of the Philippines.
Next week in part two Athena Lee joins the U.S. shooters and collects even more titles.
- Paul Erhardt, Editor, the Outdoor Wire Digital Network
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