Olympic gold medalist Sunisa “Suni” Lee owes a lot to her father, John Lee, when it comes to her blossoming gymnastics career. However, she was there for him when he needed her most — and that makes all the difference. Suni’s dad (who is not her biological father but has been in her life since she was 2 years old) was paralyzed from the waist down in 2019 after a devastating fall from a ladder.
Soon after his accident, the Minnesota native was scheduled to compete in a senior competition. “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,” Suni 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.”
The elite gymnast went on to win gold, silver and bronze at the 2019 championship in Stuttgart, Germany, thanks to her dad’s insistence.
Suni has had her father’s back ever since his accident. “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 New York Times. “He is still in a wheelchair, but he can use his hands and he is getting better every day.”
John came into Suni’s life when she was just 2 years old. Her dad began dating her mother, Yeev Thoj, at the time, but the couple never married. He was so dedicated to her success that he helped foster her progress at a young age. “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,” John told the Today show in July amid the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games. “That beam is still there.” Suni’s biological father’s identity is unknown.
Her parents were unable to attend the event in Japan due to coronavirus precautions — but John made it clear that the entire family was watching Suni at home. “Even though we can’t go and support her in-person, I’m glad that we could share with the world,” her dad gushed to CBS Minnesota. “We’re just all so happy, we cheered her on. We had the full house, so we were pretty loud.”