Olympic gold medalist Sunisa “Suni” Lee became America’s hero when she took home the top honor in the gymnastics all-around competition at the 2021 Games in Tokyo. Her mom, Yeev Thoj, and her father, John Lee, were unable to be in Japan to support her — but they were glued to the TV in her native St. Paul, Minnesota.
“Even though we can’t go and support her in-person, I’m glad that we could share with the world,” her dad told CBS Minnesota following her incredible showing. “We’re just all so happy, we cheered her on. We had the full house, so we were pretty loud.”
However, Suni’s dad John is not her biological father. He and Yeev met and began dating when the athlete was just two years old. However, the couple never married. Despite this, Suni considers John her father and changed her last name to his. As for her biological dad, his identity is unclear.
John has been a great support system for Suni over the years — and he even built her her very first balance beam at home when she was young. “She goes to the gym and she practices but we don’t have a beam here. So, I couldn’t afford a real beam, so I built her one,” he gushed to the Today show on July 29. “That beam is still there.”
In 2019, Suni reciprocated the support her father had given her by being by his side following a devastating fall from a ladder that left him paralyzed from the waist down. “I thought he was going to pass away when he was in the hospital, so I didn’t want to go to nationals and compete. But he told me to go, that he really wanted me to go. So, I did,” she previously told The New York Times. “Now I realize that if he didn’t push me like that, I wouldn’t be in the spot I am right now with the Olympics so close. I knew he was watching me, so I did great for him.”
Unsurprisingly, the elite gymnast still has her dad’s back. “On the anniversary, I texted him and said, ‘Dad, I’m so proud of how far you’ve come and that you’ve come back so strong,'” she revealed to the outlet. “He is still in a wheelchair, but he can use his hands and he is getting better every day.”