Fans of Suni Lee love her Olympic-themed fake eyelashes and long nails

As Sunisa Lee celebrates her gold medal in the women’s gymnastics all-around final, the Team USA star has become an instant household name — but who is the 18-year-old gymnast who took first place in her first-ever Olympics? ?

Hailing from Minnesota, Sunisa is the daughter of Laotian refugees who fled the country in the wake of the Vietnam War – and she is also the first Hmong American to represent the United States at the Olympics.

Her road to the Games was not an easy one, with the star enduring through personal tragedy after her father was paralyzed in a freak accident in 2019 that left him in a wheelchair.

But both her parents, who were unable to accompany her to the Games due to COVID rules, excitedly cheered her on from home as she beat the match on Thursday, while her mother was moved to tears when Sunisa was announced the winner.

Sunisa grew up in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where her family settled to pursue the American dream.

Her father has always been a big supporter. When she was 12, he bet her that if she won a contest she was preparing for, he would buy her an iPhone. That was no small gamble for John, but he meant it – so when she won, he sold a truck to pay her price

He also suffered broken ribs and a broken wrist when he suffered a spinal cord injury, but says his daughter gives him strength

He also suffered broken ribs and a broken wrist when he suffered a spinal cord injury, but says his daughter gives him strength

Both of her parents, Houa John Lee and Yeev Thoj, were born in Laos and belong to the Hmong ethnic group. During the Vietnam War, the Hmong were recruited to fight alongside American troops to stave off communism — and they paid a heavy price.

In all, about 50,000 Hmong civilians were killed, with about 25 percent of all Hmong men killed in fighting. Many were killed by their own government after US forces withdrew, forcing many who remained to flee for their safety.

According to an article in Minnesota’s Star Tribune, her mother and father were still children when their families fled Laos in the 1970s and were the first to end up in refugee camps in Thailand.

“When the US withdrew from Laos, the war wasn’t over,” explains her naval veteran father. “People had to go to Thailand for their safety and a chance at a better life.”

However, they were not allowed to settle in Thailand and in 1979, when Sunisa’s father was eight years old, his family emigrated to the US. Her mother emigrated in 1987 at the age of 12.

“We know they did it for a reason so they would be safe and their children would have a good life,” Sunisa said of her grandparents’ reasons for fleeing. “It’s a really cool thing for my generation to know that they did that for us. And it was all worth it.’

They eventually made their way to Minnesota, home to about 80,000 Hmong people – who see her as their “ambassador to the world.”

Her parents met as adults in Minnesota. According to ESPN, John is not Sunisa’s biological father: He was a divorced father of two children, Jonah and Shyenne, when he met Sunisa’s mother, Yeev, who was then a single mother to two-year-old Sunisa, after whom she was named. her favorite Thai soap actress.

But the pair clearly bonded, with Sunisa choosing to legally change her last name to Lee.

Sunisa, pictured with her sister Shyenne, grew up tumbling and flipping through the house.  Her parents enrolled her in gymnastics classes at the age of six

Sunisa, pictured with her sister Shyenne, grew up tumbling and flipping through the house. Her parents enrolled her in gymnastics classes at the age of six

Both of her parents, Houa John Lee and Yeev Thoj, were born in Laos and belong to the Hmong ethnic group.  They came to the US as refugees in the wake of the Vietnam War

Both of her parents, Houa John Lee and Yeev Thoj, were born in Laos and belong to the Hmong ethnic group. They came to the US as refugees in the wake of the Vietnam War

Sunisa – known to friends and family as Suni – is one of five siblings in all, including sisters Shyenne and Evionn and brothers Jonah, Lucky and Noah.

As a young girl, she became enthralled with gymnastics after watching videos on YouTube and telling the New York Times, “Once I started, I just couldn’t stop. It looked so nice, and I wanted to try it myself.’

She turned and tumbled through the family’s house, even swinging on metal bars holding up a clothesline in the backyard. When she was six, her parents enrolled her in classes at the Midwest Gymnastics Center in Little Canada, where she still trains today with coaches Jess Graba and Alison Lim, who own the gym.

“She was a very active kid, she was always tumbling around,” her aunt Cecelia Lee told the Star Tribune. “But who could have known it would lead to this?”

When she got better, her father built her a wooden balance beam that she could use at home for practice. He made it himself because the family couldn’t afford a real one.

Her father has always been a big supporter. When Sunisa was 12, he bet her that if she won first place in a competition she was preparing for, he would buy her an iPhone. That was no small gamble for John, but he meant it – so when she won, he sold a truck to pay her price.

“When Suni started competing as an elite, I traveled with her almost everywhere,” he told ESPN. “I always talked to her before the game, and sometimes I was hard on her and she got mad. When Suni is angry, she concentrates a little better.’

But, he said, his message has changed a bit when she went to the big leagues.

“Now she’s used to me telling her to go out and have fun,” he said.

In the fall, Sunisa will attend Auburn University in Alabama

She said her favorite subject in school was science

In the fall, Sunisa attends Auburn University in Alabama. She said her favorite subject in school was science

Sunisa (far left) is pictured with her teammates in matching outfits in the Olympic Village

Sunisa (far left) is pictured with her teammates in matching outfits in the Olympic Village

Sunisa has managed to stay focused even when disaster struck her family. In August 2019, John was pruning a neighbor’s tree branches on a ladder when he fell to the ground. He suffered serious injuries, including broken ribs, a broken wrist and, worst of all, a spinal cord injury.

He spent time in the hospital, but insisted that Sunisa still competed in her first national senior championships days later. Knowing her dad was watching on TV, a then 16-year-old Sunisa dominated, finishing the all-around in second behind Simone Biles and earning gold on uneven bars.

Today, John remains paralyzed by the weight and is wheelchair-bound, but he says his daughter gives him strength.

“Before my injury, I was active and athletic and repaired everything in the house,” he said. “I can’t do that anymore, and that’s hard. But when I get so mad at myself, I look at Sunisa and think about what she went through to get to where she is today, and she inspires me.”

This year was a busy year for Sunisa. Before coming to the Olympics, she had already started collecting medals, finishing first on uneven bars at the 2021 Winter Cup, the 2021 American Classic and the 2021 US Gymnastics Championships.

When she got better, her father built her a wooden balance beam that she could use to practice at home, and made it himself because the family couldn't afford a real one.

“She was a very active kid, she was always tumbling around,” her aunt Cecelia Lee told the Star Tribune. “But who could have known it would lead to this?”

She also graduated from high school at South Saint Paul Secondary, where her favorite subject was science. In the fall, she will attend Auburn University in Alabama.

But while there have been many tense moments, there have also been difficult times. She became depressed when the Olympics were postponed last year and even considered giving up gymnastics. When she finally got back to the gym, she broke her foot, causing her to deteriorate. She also lost a beloved aunt and uncle who contracted COVID-19.

“It’s been a difficult year, but I’m super proud of myself,” she said. “After COVID and quarantine, I was unmotivated because we had so much free time and I felt I wasn’t good enough anymore. But now I’ve gotten a lot better mentally and you can see that in my gymnastics.’

The whole world could see it when she took her first Olympic gold medal today. This also applies to her proud parents, who were forced to watch from home because of the Olympic ban on family members.

“It’s very hard because it’s all our dreams and for them it’s heartbreaking not even being able to go to the Olympics and watch it,” Sunisa admitted to People.

“Even though we can’t support her personally, I’m glad we can share it with the world,” her father told WCCO. ‘We are all so happy, we encouraged her. We had a full house, so we were quite noisy.’

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