(CBS NEWS) —Suni Lee, an 18-year-old Team USA gymnast from Minnesota, just took home the gold medal for the women’s gymnastics all-around at the Tokyo Olympics. She got there with hard work, perseverance and support from her family – especially her dad, John.
When she was 2 years old, Yeev met John Lee, a recently divorced dad with two children, and began dating him, according to an ESPN interview with the family. The pair never married, but Suni considers John her dad – even changing her last name to Lee.
There are six kids in the family – Jonah, Shyenne, Evionn, Lucky, Noah and of course, Suni, who bonded with John through movement.
John has always supported Suni’s love for gymnastics, telling the “Today Show” that he even built a wooden balance beam for her in their backyard. “She goes to the gym and she practices but we don’t have a beam here,” he said. “So, I couldn’t afford a real beam, so I built her one.”
“That beam is still there,” he added.
The family is not able to be at the Olympics due to capacity restrictions because of the pandemic. But at a large watch party, dozens of Lee’s friends and family members jumped for joy and cheered when she won the gold.
“Even though we can’t go and support her in-person, I’m glad that we could share with the world,” John told CBS Minnesota after his daughter’s Olympic performance this week. “We’re just all so happy, we cheered her on. We had the full house so we were pretty loud.”
Suni shared the video of her friends and family cheering at the watch party, tweeting: “The people i do it all for. I LOVE YOU ALL.”
The gold medal came after years of hard work and overcoming injuries. Last year, Suni suffered a leg and foot injury, spending two months out of action.
And in 2019, John suffered an injury of his own, falling off a ladder and becoming paralyzed from the chest down, CBS Minnesota reports.
John’s accident happened just before national championships in Kansas City. “She almost didn’t go because I was in surgery. Her and her coach came over and I woke up and said, ‘You worked so hard for it, just go,'” John told CBS Minnesota.
She went, and ended up placing second, after Simone Biles. Suni also won gold on uneven bars at the 2019 US Championships – even though she had a partially-healed hairline fracture in her tibia. She dedicate the victory to her father. “I was thinking of my dad the whole time, and to do it for him because I knew that he would be so proud,” she said, according to Olympics.com.
John said it’s Suni’s Midwest mindset that made her ready to advance to Tokyo. “Sunisa, she’s very persistent. Whatever she sets her mind to, she’ll go for it,” he said.
After Suni won gold on Thursday, her mom told CBS Minnesota her daughter’s hard work “finally paid off, and she is a gold medalist.”
“I’m so proud as a mom,” Yeev said.
“All the hard work all the broken bones, all the time you missed vacationing with us, it paid off,” John said.