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Anna Lee (McIntire ’24): She’s a Cadet. She’s Cavman

How a graduating McIntire student took on two completely different roles during her time on Grounds—and crushed them both.

Upon reflecting on her two main commitments while at UVA, Lee says being in the ROTC as well as Cavman comes with a few common traits. “You got to be a risk-taker and be unafraid,” she says. (Photos by Matt Riley, University Communications)

Upon reflecting on her two main commitments while at UVA, Lee says being in the ROTC as well as Cavman comes with a few common traits. “You got to be a risk-taker and be unafraid,” she says. (Photos by Matt Riley, University Communications)

By Andrew Ramspacher, fpa5up@virginia.edu

Anna Lee is 5-foot-6, but shares a basketball memory with Steph Curry; never ran more than a mile, but now is part of a champion endurance team.

Lee has taken a fearless path to Final Exercises at the University of Virginia and, on May 19, will walk the Lawn to receive her degree from the McIntire School of Commerce. But that achievement represents just a sliver of her time as a Wahoo.

Lee’s been a team manager for the UVA volleyball team, an active member of the University’s Barbell Club and has served on the University Judiciary Committee. She’s been involved with the Grace Christian Fellowship as well as the Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship. From flag football to beach volleyball to water polo, she’s played nearly every intramural sport. This semester, she’s interned in the athletics department’s business office.

Still, the two commitments she’s cherished most couldn’t be more opposite: She is a cadet and Cavman.

Lee has completed UVA’s ROTC program and will soon be commissioned into active duty for the U.S. Army in a medical services role. Most Tuesdays during her UVA career—when physical training and ROTC labs took place—she’d wear fatigues.

Lee has also completed a three-year run as UVA’s mascot. On most gamedays during her career here, she’d wear an enlarged suit, complete with a big head, mimicking a cavalier.

Camouflaged or masked, Lee found an abiding commonality in both roles.

“You got to be a risk-taker,” she said, “and be unafraid.”

Being Cavman

Though Lee came to UVA with mascot experience from her senior year at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax (Woodson’s teams are also the Cavaliers, coincidentally), she initially hesitated to try out to be Cavman because of an apparent height requirement.

Those in the Cavman suit are traditionally between 5-11 and 6-5, as larger builds make it easier to control the size of the costume. Lee, who contends she’s 5-6½ “on a good day,” had to talk her way into an audition. That was the hard part. The rest was easy.

“I showed up, and all these girls were like 5-10 and above,” Lee said. “The guys were all really tall and lanky too. So I was a little intimidated at first.

“But I’ve always loved to dance and they ended up playing ‘Soulja Boy’ during my turn and I was like, ‘I know this one.’ I hit the ‘Dougie,’ and that’s what I think sold it.”

From her debut during a women’s basketball game in February 2022 to all events during the current athletics season, Lee has been the only female among the rotation of several students playing Cavman.

Trent Vera, a fellow Cavman and fourth-year student, said Lee’s short statue is barely noticeable when she’s in the suit.

“Her moves are so big and so is her energy,” the 5-10 Vera said. “I’ve never seen her come to a football game or a basketball game or any other event around Grounds and not instantly have that same Cavman energy.”

Lee considers her crowning mascot moment the time when she greeted two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry as the star Golden State Warriors guard sat courtside at John Paul Jones Arena for UVA’s win over Virginia Tech in men’s basketball on Jan. 18, 2023.

“Cavman dapped him up,” Lee said of Curry, who was seated next to then-teammate and former Wahoo great Ty Jerome, “but I was inside. So that was super awesome and something that I could never do again.”

Being Cadet

If you haven’t figured it out by now, being bold comes naturally for Lee. She joined the ROTC as a second-year student, not because of any previous experience or family military ties—her parents, Daniel Hae-Dong Lee and Amanda Hae-Soo Lee, are UVA graduates—but because, simply, “I wanted to see how far I could push myself,” she said.

She put that mentality into action early as a cadet when she tried out for the unit’s 10-miler team despite a limited resume as a distance runner.

“I never ran more than a mile in my life before I tried out for that team,” Lee said. “And then this girl had to drop out, so they had an open spot for a female. And I was like, ‘OK, why not? I’ll do it!’ No one else was stepping up, and I can’t say no. ‘Let’s test the boundaries here.’

“So for the next two to three months, I would run five miles three times a week.”

Lee went on to make the team and finish a 10-mile race in Lynchburg. Two years later, as a fourth-year student on her third attempt, she made the unit’s 11-person Ranger Challenge team and then played a crucial role in that squad placing first in the small program category of the national competition at Fort Barfoot.

The three-day event was a series of grueling competitions, including a timed two-mile run, a six-mile ruck, and the navigation of a grenade assault course.

“The training for it and then actually competing in it was the most mental and physical exertion I’ve had,” Lee said of the Ranger Challenge. “But it was so rewarding in the end.”
Enduring Spirit

U.S. Army Capt. Nicholas Hassell, a Professor of Military Science, was one of the few within UVA’s ROTC program who knew that Lee was Cavman. Identities of those wearing the suit are kept quiet until just before graduation, but Lee had to let Hassell in on the secret a few years ago to explain her absence from class when the mascot was needed for a road basketball game.

Privy to such intel has allowed Hassell to consider something for the first time in his military career: There’s a correlation between a successful cadet and a successful mascot.

“When you’re Cavman,” Hassell said, “whether the game’s going well or not, you have that responsibility of setting that tone within the culture and climate of what’s going on during the game, and people are going to look to you as that representation of the University.

“The same thing can happen as a leader here in the ROTC. Once you get out into the service and you’re leading those men and women, you are seen, as an officer, as a representation of the organization. So that means you got to be the person carrying the flag. You got to be that spotlight for other people.”

There’s a good chance that the daring Lee will continue to sprint—or Dougie—into that spotlight well into the future.

“The bigger the obstacle,” Hassell said, “the more enjoyment she’s going to get out of solving it.”

This story was originally published on UVA Today May 1, 2024.

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