When Sunisa Lee won her first gold medal with Team USA in her gymnastics world debut on Tuesday in Germany, it was her dad who was on her mind.
The 16-year-old Hmong-American artistic gymnast said she was thinking about her dad who she knew would be watching from his hospital bed.
Lee’s father, John, injured his spine in a fall while trimming a tree about two months ago. He suffered partial paralysis and is now undergoing rehabilitation, reports NBC Sports.
“It was amazing. I almost started crying. It just feels so surreal and I can’t even believe that I’m here and I’m a world champion now. That’s so crazy for me,” Lee was quoted as saying. “[I was] just thinking about the whole routine and my dad. I’m just super proud of this team.”
John streamed the team’s final from his room at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center.
“Wish I could have been there to see it, but it is what it is,” John lamented. “To see her and her teammates do so well, it’s amazing.”
He was released from the hospital on Wednesday.
A week after John’s accident, Lee showcased a stunning performance at her first senior U.S. Championships where she finished second to Simone Biles. It was revealed later that at one point she was considering not traveling from Minnesota to Kansas City to attend the meet. Her father, however, urged her to go ahead and compete.
In Germany, Lee competed on the uneven bars, balance beam and floor for the team event. Scoring a combined total of 172.330 points, the U.S. team defeated second-place Russia by 5.801 points. It was the U.S. team’s seventh consecutive team title at an Olympics or world championships.
Lee’s best event was the uneven bars, where she led the U.S. with a score of 14.733, the third-best mark in the competition behind Biles and fellow American Jade Carey.
On Thursday, Lee landed in the eighth spot for the women’s all-around competition due to a mistake during her bars routine. However, her strong performances on the balance beam and floor pushed her to a total score of 55.632, reports Star Tribune
“I feel like I kind of let the nerves get to me a little bit, but it’s all part of the learning experience,” Lee said after the meet. “There’s going to be a lot more meets to come before the Olympics, so hopefully I can kind of get myself back together for that.”
Lee, a student at South St. Paul High School, is in her first year of senior-level competition. She will conclude her first world championships by competing in two event finals — bars on Saturday and floor exercise on Sunday.