A victory parade has been held for all-around gymnastics champion Sunisa Lee in her home state of Minnesota.
St. Paul residents celebrated Suni with a parade on Sunday afternoon after the 18-year-old soared and tumbled her way to all-around U.S. victory last week.
Suni brought home three medals for the United States – one bronze, one silver and one gold.
A parade is held to celebrate the success and homecoming of Sunisa Lee, the first Hmong American to compete in the Olympics in her home city of St Paul on Sunday
Proud locals carried a banner proclaiming St Paul the home city of the Olympic gold medalist
Olympian Sunisa Lee is seen riding on the top of of a fire truck as she is paraded through the streets
At the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Lee, an 18-year-old gymnast who hails from St. Paul, earned the gold medal for women’s artistic individual all-around, silver for women’s artistic team all-around, and bronze for women’s uneven bars
Sunisa Lee is pictured performing in the Women’s Balance Beam Final last week
Suni was joined by her parents, Governor Tim Walz, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, Minnesota State Senator Foung Hawj, and various other performers and speakers.
‘This is truly amazing,’ said Suni in front of the crowd on Sunday evening. ‘It’s not like anything I ever expected. To see all of your amazing faces here is just truly incredible.
‘I’m so overwhelmed, and I really feel all of the love and support that all of you have given me throughout my whole entire journey and especially now since — I’m an Olympic gold medalist!’
After Suni’s gold medal win, Governor Tim Walz declared Friday, July 30 as ‘Sunisa Lee Day.’
Sunisa, the country’s first ever Hmong-American Olympian had a message for the many young people who showed up to support her: ‘If you ever want to reach your dreams, please try and go for it, because you never know how far you’re going to get,’ she said. ‘Even if it gets hard, don’t ever stop.’
Sunisa Lee waves to gathered crowds in St. Paul as they cheered her on as she passed along the street
Cheering crowds lined both sides of a mile of White Bear Avenue in St. Paul on Sunday to celebrate their hometown Olympic champion
Locals from all over town came out to show their support for the Olympic gymnast
People came out on Sunday afternoon from across Minneapolis/St.Paul to cheer on their hometown hero
Suni claimed victory in the all-around final – a title that many had expected her teammate Simone Biles, pictured, to win, before the 24-year-old dropped out of contention amid ongoing struggles with her mental health. On Friday, Biles was reunited with her NFL star boyfriend Jonathan Owens when she went to visit him at the Houston Texans’ pre-season training camp
‘There’s a lot of young boys and girls out here and I just want to say that if you ever want to reach your dreams, please try and go for it, because you never know how far you’re going to get,’ Suni said.
‘It truly is amazing when you do reach your dreams, so please don’t ever, ever – even if it gets hard – don’t ever stop.’
Suni claimed victory in the all-around final – a title that many had expected her teammate Simone Biles to win, before the 24-year-old dropped out of contention amid ongoing struggles with her mental health.
Suni won gold in the all-around final, silver in the team final, and bronze on the uneven bars.
Sunisa grew up in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where her family settled to pursue the American dream.
Earlier in Sunday’s ceremony, her parents, John Lee and Yeev Thoj, thanked the crowd in both Hmong and English.
‘Sunisa has been through so much and sacrificed so much, but she finally made her dream come true,’ John Lee said.
‘I want to thank three great countries of my life,’ he said. ‘Laos for giving me and my wife birth, Thailand for taking care of us when we needed it and the USA – the land of opportunity – which gave birth to my daughter Sunisa and the opportunity for her to reach her goal and become the first Hmong American all-around world champion.’
John Lee also thanked his own parents and his wife’s parents.
‘Without them, we would not be here, and Sunisa would not have the opportunity to set such an amazing example for the world to see who are the Hmong people.’
Gymnast Sunisa Lee held up her gold medal and waved to her fans from atop a St. Paul fire truck
Locals held banners celebrating Lee during Sunday’s parade, which drew thousands of supporters
People lines the streets to hold gold banners celebrating their Olympic champion, many with celebratory placards
Dancers, gymnasts, family and friends were all present during the parade, including these Hmong dancers
Lee was the first Hmong American to compete in the Olympics, with these Hmong dancers among those out to celebrate
Both of her parents were born in Laos and are members of the Hmong ethnic group. During the Vietnam War, the Hmong were recruited to fight alongside American forces to stave off communism — and they paid a heavy price.
About 50,000 Hmong civilians were killed in all, with about 25 per cent of all Hmong men killed in combat. Many were killed by their own government after US forces withdrew, leading many remaining Hmong to flee for their safety.
According to a feature in Minnesota’s Star Tribune, her mother and father were still children when their families fled Laos in the ’70s, ending up first in refugee camps in Thailand.
‘When the U.S. pulled out of Laos, the war wasn’t over,’ her father, a Navy veteran, explained. ‘People had to go to Thailand for their safety, and for a chance to have a better life.’
They weren’t allowed to settle in Thailand, though, and in 1979, when Sunisa’s dad was eight years old, his family emigrated to the US. Her mom emigrated at age 12, in 1987.
‘This is truly amazing. It’s not like anything I ever expected — to see all of your amazing faces here, it’s just truly incredible,’ Lee told the crowd
Dancers add to the colorful reception Sunisa Lee received having returned from Tokyo last week after Olympic success
Youngsters created banners celebrating her success for the hometown parade on Sunday
Drummers created a beat for marchers to walk to during Sunday afternoon’s procession
Gymnast Sunisa Lee held up her gold medal and waved to her fans from atop a St. Paul fire truck
‘We know they did it for a reason, so they could be safe and their kids could have a good life,’ Sunisa said of her grandparents’ reasons for fleeing. ‘It’s something very cool for my generation to know they did that for us. And it was all worth it.’
They ultimately made their way to Minnesota, home to about 80,000 Hmong people — who see her as their ‘ambassador to the world.’
Suni’s quest for Olympic gold was not an easy one for her, or her family.
In 2019, just days before she was due to compete in the national championships, Suni’s father sustained a horrific injury to his spinal cord when he fell from a tree – leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
She went on to compete and finished in second place behind Biles, 24, however she confessed in the wake of her Olympics all-around win that the stress of her father’s accident, coupled with her own injury struggles, left her unsure of her future in the sport.
Youngsters from dance troupes across the city were invited to take part and show their support
One little girl waves to the gathered crowds on a memorable day for the city of St. Paul
‘I’m so overwhelmed, and I really feel all of the love and support that all of you have given me throughout my whole entire journey and especially now since — I’m an Olympic gold medalist!’ Lee said
Dancers walked in formation along the the street in Saint Paul, Minnesota on Sunday afternoon
Supporters from across the city came out to show their appreciation of their hometown champion
‘The past two years have been absolutely crazy with COVID and my family and everything else,’ Suni – who also lost an aunt and uncle to COVID-19, shared during a press conference.
‘This medal definitely means a lot to me because there was a point in time where I wanted to quit and I just didn’t think I would ever get here, [especially with my own] injuries and stuff.’
Having qualified for the event in third place, behind Biles and Brazilian athlete Rebeca Andrade, the teenager put on an incredibly confident and skillful performance throughout the final to overtake her closest rival and clinch the win.
But while she appeared cool and calm on the surface, Lee confessed that she was actually battling horrific nerves that left her feeling as though she was going to ‘puke’ before she stepped up onto her third event, the balance beam – which is where she surged ahead into first place.
Supporters could be seen cheering Suni Lee on outside the Saint Paul Public Library during Sunday’s parade
Veterans also took time to march in the parade as part of the Hmong community, of which Lee is a member
Young gymnasts inspired by Suni Lee’s performance showed their gratitude as they marched along the street
The parade stretched along White Bear Avenue in Saint Paul, with locals including this girl keen to cheer Lee on
The City of St. Paul, Hmong community leaders, the Suni Lee Celebration Committee and Visit St. Paul have organized the parade to celebrate the gymnast’s success at the Olympics
‘In that moment, I literally felt like I was going to puke, I was so nervous,’ she told the Today show’s Hoda Kotb shortly after the all-around final, revealing that she kept telling herself over and over to do ‘nothing more, nothing less’.
‘Nothing more, nothing less… because my normal is good enough, so I don’t need to do anything more, nothing less,’ she explained.
Suni also admitted that her achievements in Japan were slightly bittersweet because her family and friends were not allowed to travel and support her as they had always planned to do – particularly her father, who had always joked about doing a backflip to celebrate her first Olympic medal.
Suni soared to victory in the all-around final by putting up solid performances on all four of her events – including the beam, on which she is one of the best athletes in the world
Parents John and Yeev were both seen tearing up as they watched the final unfold
Her father, John Leem was overcome with emotion as his daughter stormed to victory
Suni’s family and friends were seen celebrating her win at home in Minnesota, last month, having been forced to watch on from afar after spectators were banned from traveling to Japan for the Games amid the ongoing pandemic
Dad, John, was paralyzed from the waist down when he fell off a ladder while trimming tree branches in 2019, days before Suni competed in the national championships
The gymnast used to spend hours practicing her routines outside in the family yard, using a beam that her father built for her by hand when she was a little girl