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A DP grad’s string of victories: Q&A with Canadian yo-yo champion Harrison Lee

IB programmes are designed to cultivate students’ agency. Programme elements like the exhibition, personal project and CAS, encourage students to explore and develop their unique interests. In this post, Harrison Lee—a graduate of the Primary Years Program (PYP), Middle Years Program (MYP) and Diploma Program (DP) and a three-time Canadian national champion in yo-yo—describes how he has pursued an interest in yo-yo to an international stage.

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What sparked your interest in yo-yo?

I started yo-yoing in sixth grade because one of my best friends brought a yo-yo to school one day. I asked him if I could try and I have been yo-yoing ever since. He started a yo-yo craze, everyone in my grade got hooked and even some of the teachers started learning a few tricks. We would have yo-yo competitions during recess: who could do the most rotations of around the world, the longest walk the dog and most rocks in rock the baby.

What keeps you interested in yo-yo?

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In the 8 years that I have been yo-yoing, it has been my creative outlet and helps me maintain balance with my academics. After building a base of tricks from tutorials off Youtube, yo-yoers will often create their own tricks—similar to how hip-hop dancers have their own signature moves or combinations.

With limitless possibilities in the ways that you can manipulate both the string and the yo-yo, I am constantly creating new tricks and discovering ways better execute the tricks that I have already created. I am a very fidgety individual, so having something to fidget with is also nice!

How did you decide to do it competitively?

The first yo-yo competition that I participated in was the Western Canadian Regional Contest in Vancouver in 2011. At the time I had only been yo-yoing for just a couple of months, but I thought I would give a shot at competing in the junior division. A few of my other friends were competing as well, so it was nice excuse to get out of my weekend piano lessons. I entered the contest for fun, with very few expectations of how I would place and ended up walking out with a silver medal. I enjoyed the thrill of competing and performing. That is when I realized that it was something that I should pursue further. Little did I know that it would become a defining part of my identity.

Yo-yoing is not a typical career path or hobby, in that there’s not a defined path to success as there are in other pursuits like competitive chess or hockey. How did you find your way into the international yo-yo community?

Yo-yo competitions often give a good benchmark on how to improve. Looking at the results at a contest, your scores in different categories, and the mistakes that you have made gives a good indication of what you need to work on for the next contest. This informs the kind of tricks that you create and the way that you construct your routines. This iterative process of competing, reflecting, and then building has naturally allowed me to improve in the hobby. When I first started creating my own tricks, I took a lot of inspiration from Youtube videos that players had posted online. Using their style and their tricks as a template, I had a goal to work towards and something to emulate.

As modern yo-yoing is such a niche and unusual activity, it attracts a variety of different individuals who all share a common passion. As a result, the international yo-yo community has become really close. There are numerous Facebook groups and Instagram hashtags dedicated to yo-yo. It is common to meet someone online, talk with each other and exchange tricks through video chat, become close friends and then finally meet each other months later at a yo-yo contest.

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Building a network of friends across the world made it easy to feel a sense of belonging and gave me an incentive to go to international contests beyond just competing.

You’ve completed the whole IB continuum. What role did yo-yo play in that experience?

Yo-yoing and the IB learner profile are seemingly disparate; however, my yo-yoing not only helped me with my academics, but my academics helped me with my yo-yo. Taking the skills that I learned as an IB learner helped me become a better yo-yoer. Yo-yoing gave me a creative outlet. Having a hobby which pushes me to constantly create, aides my critical thinking skills, helps me find creative ways to deconstruct problems and be a natural inquirer. Taking the skills that I learned and reflecting on ways to improve as an IB student extends well beyond the classroom to many other areas, even my yo-yo.

To hear more from Diploma Programme (DP) graduates check out these IB programme stories. If you are an IB grad and want to share your story, write to us at alumni.relations@ibo.org. We appreciate your support in sharing IB stories and invite you to connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter and now Instagram!

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