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Suni Lee opens up about return to elite gymnastics amid battle with kidney disease

Olympic gold medalist Suni Lee recently opened up about dealing with a recently diagnosed kidney condition in an interview with SELF Magazine.

The 20-year-old gymnast won the gold medal in the women’s gymnastics all-around event at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. She briefly left elite gymnastics to compete at the collegiate level, but was forced to cut her last NCAA season short after experiencing non-gymnastics related kidney issues.

Lee had also recently announced her return to elite gymnastics. The plan was and is still to try to compete at the Paris 2024 Olympics. But, she is now adjusting her training schedule to ensure she’s taking care of her health.

In February 2023, Lee told SELF she woke up with swollen ankles. As a gymnast, she thought it was normal at first, but the next day everything was swollen. Her doctors initially thought she was having an allergic reaction but her

“I just kept getting more swollen…and I think I gained, like, 40 pounds,” Lee told SELF.

“It affected my whole body and how I looked and how I was feeling,” she added.

Eventually, doctors realized she might be dealing with kidney issues. Lee shared the name of her official diagnosis off-the-record with SELF, but her doctors also say her diagnosis could change. Currently, there is no cure for her condition. She must follow a robust medication regimen to maintain her health.

Lee told SELF that it feels good to have more clarity about her health but that the process has been confusing and heartbreaking.

“How do I just randomly wake up one day swollen, and now I’m stuck with this condition for the rest of my life?” Lee told SELF.

Lee also admitted it has been difficult to make her return alongside teammate and friend Simone Biles. She is aware that many people say she only won gold because Biles could not compete in the 2020 Olympic all-around.

The young athlete told SELF that having Biles back in the gym is a motivator but has also impacted how she views her goals.

“I feel like my mindset switched to the way it was before, where I’m like, Okay, now I’m just competing for second,” she said.

Lee is using her recovery time to be a supportive teammate. She recently wished her friends and teammates luck at Worlds trials, a camp she had to withdraw from to look after her health.

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