Sunisa Lee is an American gymnast who is competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Lee, who goes by Suni Lee, is one of six members of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team alongside Simone Biles, Jordan Chiles, Grace McCallum, MyKayla Skinner and Jade Carey.
Lee, making her Olympic debut, won the silver medal with her team and then won the individual all-around gold medal. She still has two more chances to win medals in the balance beam and uneven bars.
Lee, an 18-year-old Minnesota native wrote on Instagram after her first competition, “Officially an olympian. 🌟 Feeling proud and blessed. Thank you to everyone who has shown me nothing but their love and support. The hardest part is done, time to show out.”
After she and her team, which she dubbed the “Fighting Four,” won the silver medal, Lee wrote on Instagram, “Beyond proud of this team. in my heart, we are winners. We fought til the end and didn’t give up. Tonight may not have gone how we wanted it to but we stepped up to the plate and give it our all. Best team I could’ve asked for.”
Here’s what you need to know about Sunisa Lee:
1. What Happened to Suni Lee’s Father?
Suni Lee’s father, John Lee, was paralyzed in an accident in 2019. Lee injured his spinal cord and broke several bones and ribs when he fell off a ladder while helping trim a tree at a friend’s house ahead of his friend’s daughter’s wedding, according to USA Today. He was initially paralyzed from the chest down and is now paralyzed from the waist down, according to NBC.
The accident happened just days before Suni Lee traveled to the 2019 U.S. National Gymnastics Championships, where she finished second overall, behind only Simone Biles. She told KARE-TV, “I wasn’t in the best place, I guess, going into it, but I just kind of switched gears and competed for my dad.” John Lee added, “She’s worked so hard for this. I tell her don’t worry about me, just go and do well.”
Along with her dad’s injury, Lee has also dealt with the deaths of her aunt and uncle to COVID-19 in 202, according to Olympics.com. She told the New York Times, “I fought off the negative thoughts and the sadness, and just focused. Now I feel like I’m maybe tougher because of it. No, not maybe. I am tougher because of it.”
You can read more about Suni Lee’s dad here.
2. Where Is Suni Lee Going to College?
Suni Lee is planning to study at Auburn University in Alabama and will be part of the college’s women’s gymnastics team, according to AL.com. She is enrolled in classes for the fall semester, which starts August 16, eight days after the Olympics’ closing ceremonies, according to the news site.
Because of changes to NCAA rules allowing players to profit off of their name, image and likeness, Lee will be able to earn money off of her success at the Olympics, while still competing for the Auburn Tigers collegiately, something previous gymnasts were not able to do.
“It’s a huge deal,” Auburn Coach Jeff Graba told AL.com. “Suni, in the past would have had to go pro. There’s just no doubt. She would’ve had to make that horrible decision. Her career is over then. You don’t go pro and then — you have to spend a year or two doing that stuff and then you have to decide if you’re making a comeback. In our sport, making a comeback is nearly impossible.”
3. What Is Suni Lee’s Ethnicity?
Suni Lee is Hmong-American and is the first American Olympian of Hmong descent, according to NBC News. Lee’s mother, Yeev Thoj, and father, John Lee, both fled from Thailand as young children during the Vietnam War.
The Hmong are members of an ethnic group that have not had a country of their own. For thousands of years, the Hmong lived in southwestern China. But when the Chinese began limiting their freedom in the mid-1600s, many migrated to Laos, Thailand and other neighboring countries. During the Vietnam War, the Hmong in Laos aided and partnered with American forces to fight Southeast Asian Communists in what is now known as the ‘Secret War.’
After the United States pulled out of Laos, Communist forces began retaliating against the Hmong for siding with the United States. Thousands fled — and died — and numerous refugee camps were set up in Thailand.
You can read more about Suni Lee’s ethnicity here.
4. Where Did Suni Lee Go to High School?
Suni Lee went to South St. Paul Secondary School in Minnesota, according to the school’s Facebook page.
According to its website, “South St. Paul Secondary, located high on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, is a public school of just over 1,700 students, grades 6-12. … South St. Paul Secondary is an authorized International Baccalaureate World School aiming for high student achievement and a safe, caring, learning environment. … Our IB World School, with its state-of-the-art technology, is a source of pride for citizens of this hard-working community located just across the river from downtown St. Paul, Minnesota.”
5. Does Suni Lee Have an Instagram & TikTok?
Suni Lee posts frequently on Instagram and TikTok. She has kept her social media profiles updated during the lead up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and while she has been competing in Japan. Lee’s Instagram profile is @sunisalee_. Her TikTok username is also sunisalee_.
6. Who Is Suni Lee’s Mother
Suni Lee’s mother is Yeev Thoj. She was born in Laos and her family fled from the war-torn country to Thailand and then eventually to the United States when she was a child, according to ESPN. She met John Lee when Suni was 2, according to ESPN. While her parents never married, Suni Lee decided to take his last name, she told ESPN.
You can read more about Suni Lee’s mother here.
7. Does Suni Lee Have a Twin?
Suni Lee does not have a twin. But her family told ESPN that people sometimes think her sister, Shyenne, is her twin because they are so close in age. Shyenne Lee is 12 days older than Suni. She is Suni’s half-sister. Their father, John Lee, had Shyenne and Jonah with his wife before he was divorced and met Suni Lee’s mother, according to ESPN.
8. How Many Siblings Does Suni Lee Have?
Suni Lee has five siblings, according to ESPN. She has a sister, Shyenne, and a brother, Jonah, who John Lee had before he met Suni’s mother. She also has three siblings, Evionn, Lucky and Noah, who were born to John Lee and Yeev Thoj.
Lee’s sister, Evionn, has also competed in gymnastics at the regional level, according to Olympics.com.
9. How Old Is Suni Lee?
Suni Lee is 18 years old. Suni Lee was born March 9, 2003, according to Olympics.com. She was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
10. Who Is Suni Lee’s Coach?
Suni Lee’s coach is Jess Graba. She has trained under Graba since elementary school, according to The New York Times. She is expected to be coached by Graba’s brother, Jeff Graba, when she competes at Auburn University. Graba’s wife, Alison Lim, also helps coach Lee, according to the Times.
11. What Gym Does Suni Lee Go to for Training?
Suni Lee trains at the Midwest Gymnastics Center in Little Canada, Minnesota, which is owned by her coach, Jess Graba, according to USA Gymnastics.
According to its website, “Established in 1995, this 30,000 square-feet, family-owned gym is led by husband-and-wife team Jess Graba and Alison Lim. Jess started Midwest Gymnastics with his twin brother, Jeff, because they enjoyed coaching gymnastics and wanted to have the opportunity to make a meaningful impact in the lives of kids both in and out of the gym. Midwest Gymnastics trains numerous gymnasts that compete at the highest levels of the sport, including elite gymnasts, Division I gymnasts and gymnasts qualifying for the USA National Team.”
12. Where Does Suni Lee Live & Where Did She Grow Up?
Suni Lee lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her family. She was also born in the Minnesota city. Her family and friends were cheering her on from home during the Olympics, since spectators were not allowed in Tokyo.
“We wanted to support her physically, but to be able to support her with this crowd — of family, of community, of friends, and her fans — it’s worth it,” John Lee told the Minnesota news station WCCO.
13. How Tall Is Suni Lee?
Comparatively, Simone Biles is 4’8″, Grace McCallum is 5’2″, Jade Carey is also 5’2″, MyKayla Skinner is 5′ and Jordan Chiles is 4’11”.
14. What Age Did Suni Lee Start Gymnastics?
Suni Lee started gymnastics when she was 6 at the Midwest Gymnastics Center in Minnesota, according to NPR. She told USA Gymnastics she got into the sport because, “It was fun and i liked to do flips.”
Suni Lee’s father, John Lee, built a homemade balance beam at their Minnesota home when she was 8 or 9, according to NBC News. He told the Today show, “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.”
She told TwinCities.com, “I was always jumping on the bed or having my dad spot me while I was doing backflips and stuff like that. Finally, my mom got tired of it, and she knew a friend that was friends with someone at Midwest Gymnastics. That’s kind of how I got my start.”
15. What Is Suni Lee’s Best Event?
Suni Lee’s best event is the uneven bars. According to The New York Times, “Sunisa Lee’s uneven bars routine is the hardest in the world, with her flying over and between the bars so gracefully that it looks like she’s dancing in midair.”
According to The Washington Post, “Lee has two versions of her routine on bars, her standout event. Which one she performs depends on how perfectly she catches a particular release move. In the all-around final, she managed the hardest variation, which has the highest difficulty value in the world.”
16. Does Suni Lee Have a Boyfriend?
Suni Lee does not have a boyfriend or significant other that she has identified publicly. The 18-year-old Lee has not talked about dating anyone.
17. Where Are Suni Lee’s Parents From?
Suni Lee’s parents are both from Thailand. Her mother and father both fled from Laos during the Vietnam War with their families when they were young children. They eventually resettled in Minnesota.
18. Has Suni Lee Been in the Olympics Before?
Suni Lee has not been to the Olympics before. She is making her Olympic debut during the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Simone Biles was the only member of the women’s team to return to the Olympics after competing in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
19. What Song Did Suni Lee Play for Floor Exercises?
Suni Lee performed her floor exercise routine to the Lindsey Stirling song Underground. The song was released in 2019 as part of Stirling’s album Lose You Now.
20. How Did Suni Lee Do at the 2019 World Championships?
Suni Lee finished in 8th overall at the 2019 World Championships in the individual competition. Lee also won the silver medal in the floor exercise and the bronze medal in the uneven bars, according to USA Gymnastics. It was her first time competing in the World Championships. The Americans won the gold medal in the team competition.
Lee’s coach, Jess Graba, told NBC Sports, “Our goal is always to use Simone as the measuring stick and try to get as close as you can. If you’re shooting for the top, you should land somewhere close.”
21. Did Suni Lee Injure Her Leg?
Suni Lee has suffered several injuries during her career. Ahead of the 2019 World Championships Lee suffered a hairline fracture in her tibia. It was 75 percent to 80 percent healed at the time of the competition, according to NBC Sports.
Lee also spent two months healing from a broken bone in her left foot in 2020 and two other months on the sideline with an Achilles tendon injury, according to Olympics.com. She injured her ankle in 2019 and had to withdraw from the 2108 Pan American Junior Championships in Buenos Aires, Argentina because of an ankle injury.
22. What Is Suni Lee’s Net Worth?
Suni Lee’s net worth is not known. Her family has said they did not have a lot of money when she was growing up and training gymnastics. Her father, John Lee, had to build a homemade balance beam for her because they could not afford to buy one.
Lee will be able to earn money after the Olympics while competing at Auburn University because of changes to the NCAA rules to allow for athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness (NIL). “Let’s talk seven figures,” Bob Dorfman, creative director at Baker Street Advertising and a sports marketing expert told AL.com. “It’s — yeah, this is huge… It’s the biggest event of the Olympics. It’s the most popular event. The fact that Simone Biles pulled out kind of put more laser-focused attention on it. The fact that she sort of stepped up and won gold amidst all this controversy and issues about mental health and the pressure involved — she was just under a microscope, and she came through.”
Olympic Gold Medalist Jordyn Wieber told Yahoo Sports, “It is something I wish I had been able to do. The Olympics and college gymnastics were my two big dreams. Tough decision for a 16-year-old.”
23. Is Suni Lee’s Dad Still Paralyzed?
Suni Lee’s father, John Lee, is still paralyzed, but he is going through rehabilitation and other procedures to improve his condition. He told NBC News, “My hands are getting stronger. My balance is not so great, but I’m learning how to cope with that.
He told NBC News he is slowly starting to learn how to move again while recovering from the devastating spinal injury.
24. Are Suni Lee & Simone Biles Friends?
Suni Lee and Simone Biles appear to be friends. Biles said after the 2019 World Championships, “What’s impressed me the most, I think, has been Suni. She’s only 16 years old. She’s been through a long year, and to come out and put up the three events and the scores she did is pretty crazy,” NBC Sports said.
Lee has talked about what Biles means to her, writing on Instagram, “proud of you & everything you’ve accomplished! thank you for being a role model and someone i look up to every single day. you not only inspire me as a gymnast but as a person as well. your fearlessness and ability to do the impossible does not go unnoticed, we love you!!”
Biles posted on Instagram, “CONGRATS PRINCESS 🤍✨✨ absolutely killed it!!! OLYMPIC CHAMPION RIGHT HERE !!! So so so beyond proud of you!!!!”
25. What Are Suni Lee’s Favorite Hobbies?
Suni Lee says her favorite hobbies and activities include camping and fishing, according to the USA Gymnastics website. According to NBC News, more than 300 family members attend Lee’s family’s annual camping trip.
Lee is also a Harry Potter fan, according to the Star Tribune.