Since securing a spot on the U.S. Women's Gymnastic Team for the Tokyo Olympics, Sunisa (aka Suni) Lee has continued to inspire fans from all over the world. But the 18-year-old, Minneapolis native isn't a stranger to setbacks and disappointments in her career, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic meant an extra year of training and preparation for the big games. Add to the mix that Lee experienced significant hardships in her family both before and due to the pandemic, and it's clear that her road to Tokyo has seen plenty of bumps — but it's her hard-won perseverance that makes her so inspiring. (Related: Simone Biles Just Made Gymnastics History Yet Again - and She's So Casual About It)
Lee recently took to Instagram Stories to answer questions from fans and followers, keeping it real about the difficulties of being an Olympic-bound gymnast, along with sharing how she copes with hardships and the unexpected position of now being famous around the globe. Her advice and positive attitude will surely encourage you to get through whatever you might be dealing with these days, from issues at work to keeping calm before major moments and milestones in your own life.
A follower asked Lee, "what's the most difficult thing about being an elite gymnast?" and instead of the answers you might expect — i.e. training for years on end and keeping both her body and mind in tip-top shape — she responded, "a lot more disappointment than there is success." She added, "but it's always worth it in the end." (Related: World Champion Gymnast Morgan Hurd is the Definition of Determination and Resilience)
While she didn't share more details, Lee recently told People that she relies on pep talks from her father John, who became paralyzed from the chest down after a fall in August 2019, as she began preparing for the Tokyo Olympics. Instead of cheering her on from the sidelines, her dad watched her competitions on TV from his hospital bed.
Then came 2020, in which Lee was sidelined by a foot injury and a COVID-19 scare of her own after losing both her aunt and uncle to the virus last summer. Her family was able to watch her compete in person at last month's Trials, but they won't be able to join her in Tokyo. (Related: How to Stay Fit (and Sane) When You're Injured)
Then, of course, there's the dual pressure of actually competing in her first Olympic Games while becoming famous to fans from all corners of the world — something Lee mentioned in her Instagram Stories Q&A. When a follower asked Lee how she keeps a "positive mindset during setbacks or disappointments," the Olympic-bound athlete shared another solid piece of sage wisdom, writing, "I gotta tell myself that I failed trying my hardest instead of not trying at all." (Want more? Check out this guide to developing mental, emotional, and physical toughness.)
Lee also knows her life is about to change in a major way, something she admits feels "pretty overwhelming." A follower asked her if she's "afraid of how much [her] life will change after the Olympics" and she shared, "a lil bit, it's already pretty overwhelming. But I'm soo thankful for the support, it honestly helps me so much." No matter what happens in Tokyo, Lee has already made history by becoming the first Hmong American Olympic gymnast — something she knows "means a lot to the Hmong community," telling People, "and to just be an inspiration to other Hmong people [means] a lot to me too."
At just 18, she's already accomplished so many incredible things, and it's clear Lee's positive mindset and determination have helped her every step of the way so far.