Minnesota could be on the map for a number of reasons during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, with Lakeville swimmer Regan Smith and St. Paul gymnast Sunisa Lee both hoping to qualify with Team USA.
But for Lee, she's grinding through qualifying competition while her father, 49-year-old Houa John Lee, is going through the recovery process after he was paralyzed from the chest down in a tree trimming accident.
According to a GoFundMe campaign, Lee was helping a friend trim a tree on Aug. 4 when he fell, suffering a complete spinal cord injury, fractured ribs and a broken wrist. He then developed life-threatening pneumonia.
It's too early to tell if Lee will walk again, but the U.S. Navy veteran's – he served in the Persian Gulf War from 1990-94 – main goal is to get back to work to support his family and "attend the 2020 Summer Olympics" with Sunisa Lee, whom the fundraiser describes as an "elite gymnast" hoping to make the Olympic team.
"Whether she makes the team or not, John is determined to go to Tokyo, Japan to support the US Women’s gymnastics team with his daughter," the fundraiser says.
Sunisa Lee finished second to American superstar Simone Biles in the U.S. World Championships in August, and she followed that performance up with another second-place finish to Biles at the world team selection camp in September.
“What’s impressed me the most, I think, has been Suni,” Biles said of Lee in an interview with NBC Sports. “She’s only 16 years old. She’s been through a long year, and to come out and put up the three events and the scores she did is pretty crazy."
On Thursday, Sunisa finished eighth in the world championships all-around compeition, with Biles winning gold for a fifth time. She'll get another chance to shine this weekend as she competes in the bars and floor exercise.
The online fundraiser for the Lee family will help pay for medical expenses, lost wages, a fitted car and housing adjustments to combat John's paralysis.