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After facing health issue, Olympic champion Suni Lee finds she’s stronger than she knew.

Enduring the mental and physical challenges necessary to become an Olympic champion was just the beginning of Suni Lee’s journey. Over the past year, she faced an entirely different battle—one against her own body.

Accomplished at bending her body to her will as a gymnast, Lee found herself in a frustrating situation as her kidney ailment and the accompanying medication caused frequent swelling, making it difficult to even put on her training equipment for the uneven bars, her specialty. The consistent training regimen required of an elite gymnast became impossible due to the unpredictability of her condition.

The meticulous plans she and her longtime coach, Jess Graba, had laid out for the Paris Games were disrupted. Lee often found herself questioning whether she would be able to perform at the level required for another Olympic appearance.

“I wasn’t in the greatest mindset,” Lee shared, reflecting on her struggles.

Graba added, “She was just so depressed with how things have gone.”

However, despite the challenges, Lee is optimistic that the worst is behind her. While she has not disclosed the specifics of her kidney issue, she confirmed that it is now in remission. Together with Graba, they have found a training routine that works for her, and they’ve learned to adapt when necessary.

Despite only resuming serious training about six weeks ago, Lee is set to compete at the Winter Cup, showcasing a new skill on the bars that has never been attempted before.

“It’s a really big relief,” Lee expressed. “I was looking back at my ‘one year agos’ (photos) and I think we were in Kentucky. That’s when I had the first flare-up. I’m like, wow. It’s crazy what happened in a year. Because here I am, a year later, competing my new skill. It’s so exciting.”

While Lee will only compete in bars and balance beam at the Winter Cup, she is training for all four events, with Graba indicating that she may aim for the all-around again.

“Everything’s a possibility,” Graba said. “It depends on what Suni wants to do.”

For months, Lee’s primary desire was simply to regain her normalcy. Her kidney issues began last spring, forcing her to cut short her final NCAA season at Auburn. The inconsistency in her condition made training a challenge, with some days being better than others.

Despite these obstacles, Lee managed to compete at the U.S. Classic and national championships last year, demonstrating her resilience by finishing in the top three on beam at both events. However, she withdrew from the September selection camp for the world championships due to her inability to train consistently.

The past year has been challenging for both Lee and Graba. Lee struggled to find purpose outside of gymnastics, while Graba found himself at a loss on how to support her through her struggles.

“The last year, I’d rather forget it,” Graba admitted.

“The hardest part was getting her out of her depression and into the gym,” he added. “At first, I didn’t really want her to do gymnastics, I just wanted her to come in and hang out.”

As Lee’s health improved, gymnastics once again became her driving force. She focused on mastering a new skill on the uneven bars, hoping to showcase it at the World Cup in Baku next month and ultimately have the move named after her.


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