Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Glimpse into Suni Lee's Astonishing Rise through Family Tragedy to Olympic Gold

Junie Sihlangu
Aug 02, 2021
05:00 A.M.
Share this pen

Suni Lee has made a name for herself by taking a gold medal at this year’s Olympics, but her journey to get there has been marred by injuries, personal loss, and so many more tragedies.


Sunisa “Suni” Lee, 18, recently made the US proud when she took home a gold medal in gymnastics at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. She also made history by being the first Hmong American to compete in the Olympics.

Sunisa became the women's gymnastics all-around champion. After winning her medal, she confessed that the moment was surreal for her as she never expected to be where she was.

Sunisa Lee performs during the Women's All-Around Final of FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships on October 10, 2019, in Stuttgart, Germany | Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images


That’s because her journey to Olympic glory hasn’t been an easy one. The athlete has endured different tragedies in her young life, including the loss of an uncle and aunt to COVID-19 and personal injuries.

As if that wasn’t enough, Sunisa also had to deal with her father; Houa John’s horrific accident left him paralyzed. He got injured on August 4. 2019, while helping a neighbor trim a tree before he fell from a ladder.


Sadly, John was initially left paralyzed from the chest down when he injured his spinal cord. However, the paralyzation ended up extending to his waist down, and the star’s father also fractured a couple of ribs.

He also broke his right wrist in the fall. John’s accident occurred before Sunisa left for the national championships in Kansas City, but Sunisa persevered although her head was in Kansas while her heart was back home.


The teenager and her family live in St. Paul, Minnesota. She made her senior debut at the US gymnastics championships and competed in honor of her father, and her focus served her well.

The athlete finished second in the all-around and cemented herself as a medal contender for 2020’s Tokyo Olympics. John, a father of six children, has faithfully supported his daughter’s career right from the beginning.


He even helped her perform tricks around the house, which sometimes frustrated Sunisa’s mother, Yeev Thoj. The gymnast started defying expectations from childhood, and at age 16, she won three medals in the all-around.

Her journey to the Olympics started with a piece of plywood and a lumpy mattress. She was already obsessed with gymnastics at the tender age of seven, and her parents found the sport kept her distracted.


Sunisa’s father also built a four-foot-long structure from a spare mattress in their yard and taught her how to do flips on it. She ended up capturing a coach's attention at Midwest Gymnastics, and the rest was history.

Thoj told WCCO in 2019 that her daughter struggled because of all her injuries throughout her career. One of these injuries was a broken foot that nearly jeopardized her lifelong dream to win gold.


Her mother revealed how the teenager would come home stressed and crying before it all paid off. Winning her a gold medal at the Olympics almost didn’t happen because, at one point, she wanted to give up.

One of the reasons she never quit was because of her father’s relentless love and support. While in Stuttgart, Germany, this year, Sunisa smiled while FaceTiming with her father.


At the time, he and the family were still at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, ahead of his daughter qualifying. John, Thoj, and their three youngest children, Evionn, Lucky, and Noah, actually drove for almost 16 hours.

They drove all the way from Minneapolis to support the star and arrived just in time to see Sunisa before she went to the arena for warm-ups. On Thursday, the athlete managed to beat Brazil’s, Rebeca Andrade.


The information in this article is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, and images contained on news.AmoMama.com, or available through news.AmoMama.com is for general information purposes only. news.AmoMama.com does not take responsibility for any action taken as a result of reading this article. Before undertaking any course of treatment please consult with your healthcare provider.