03 Apr Suni Lee Posts Health and Career Update
2020 Olympic All-Around Champion Suni Lee took to social media Monday to offer an update on her health and career
“I am so proud of my team and the way they showed determination and resilience this season,” she stated. “Auburn, thank you for the best two years of my life and for giving me the opportunity to make history alongside this amazing group. I am forever grateful for this community.
“I have been dealing with a non-gymnastics health issue related to my kidneys. For my safety, the medical team did not clear me to train and compete over the last few weeks. I am blessed and thankful to be working with the best specialized medical team to treat and manage my diagnosis. My focus at this time is my health and recovery. It’s been challenging to end my Auburn career early, but I am thankful for all of the love and support.”
We wish Suni the very best for a safe, healthy recovery.
Our piece “The Suni Factor” which first appeared in our 2022 NCAA Commemorative Issue is featured below.
— Sunisa lee (@sunisalee_) April 3, 2023
The following article first appeared in Inside Gymnastics magazine’s 2022 NCAA Commemorative Issue
The Suni Factor
By Christy Sandmaier
Suni Lee is the 2020 Olympic All-Around champion and the 2022 NCAA All-Around runner up. She’s a celebrity and a student-athlete. She’s a role model, a hero, and a true inspiration influencing so many young athletes around the world. She was named one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” as one of the “Pioneers” alongside world leaders, athletes, artists, entrepreneurs and other prominent figures. In May, Auburn awarded her Student-Athlete of the Year.
With all of the glitter and gold, Suni is also first and foremost a human being balancing a world she never expected under the glaring spotlight and a sometimes unforgiving social media stage. It’s a balance that will surely continue to evolve as she charts her next steps in gymnastics and in life.
In Women’s NCAA Gymnastics, there’s never been an athlete with so many great expectations placed upon her before she even set foot in the gym at Auburn. With the title of best in the world hers, global recognition and a wealth of opportunities before her including substantial financial gain, Lee was expected to navigate her freshman year perfectly. And she almost did.
Nevermind her entire life prior had been devoted to making the Olympic team. Nevermind her schedule was anything but normal and she’d never lived away from home. Freshman year can be arduous and challenging for any college student, but imagine doing it with the entire world watching.
Not only did Suni stand in the silver medal position in Fort Worth, she helped lead her team to its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Championship final where they finished fourth. Throughout the season, she won seven All-Around titles, was Auburn’s first gymnast to score a 10, and set the program All-Around record at 39.825. And she did it following a fall season of Dancing with the Stars and countless trips across the county to walk red carpets, accept awards, chat it up on the late night talk show circuit, and fulfill sponsorship expectations. “The Suni Factor” became a headline, a theme across college gymnastics every time she entered the arena as we all waited to see what record would be broken next, how many 10s she would score and how perfect she would be. It was exciting and real. And it was unfathomable pressure.
As the season progressed, her ever-growing influence was apparent across platforms. Auburn saw record crowds with raucous student sections and consistent competition success they previously hadn’t. Her social media numbers soared again and new fans followed the sport. She was cheered on for every success, and critiqued for every minor misstep – whether a rare mistake in competition or an interview soundbite gone wrong.
It’s all created an extraordinarily complicated life for a college freshman who became an overnight sensation just a few months earlier.
“There’s so many people watching me,” she told ESPN in March, noting she found support in her team during the tough moments. “I needed to be a part of a team to find my love for the sport again in order to keep getting better,” Lee says. “I needed to somewhat be normal.”
On March 31, the day of the Auburn Regional, she shared a screenshot of her journal. “Eliminate the Doubt” it said. It was a poignant and raw phrase from the reigning Olympic All-Around Champion and spoke volumes about her mindset, personal drive and the weight of expectations she felt. “Control the Controllables”… “Give Yourself Grace.”
For now, her sights seem set on training towards another Olympic Games and landing in Paris in 2024, and doing it all while competing for the Tigers. If she does it, it will be yet another extraordinary game-changer in gymnastics. If she doesn’t, it’s completely her choice. She’s an intriguing figure in our sport and has already achieved the highest success on the competition floor.
In a season made up of so many incredible moments, seeing Suni’s journey of perseverance and determination will continue to shine as one of the brightest we’ve seen, and is hers alone to own. Her Auburn family has embraced her, NCAA Gymnastics loves her, and we are so excited to see what’s next for this extraordinary woman.
As ESPN Commentator Kathy Johnson Clarke told us, for everything she does and for everything she is, Suni Lee is special in her own way, and truly “Sunique!”
Photos by Lloyd Smith for Inside Gymnastics
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