Suni Lee made headlines in 2020 when she won the Olympic gold medal for women’s gymnastics all-around. Lee has continued to succeed in her gymnastics career as a freshman at Auburn University, making NCAA gymnastics history twice already. She has overcome countless obstacles from injury to loss to achieve these accomplishments. Despite her massive achievements, Lee still faces the same issues of imposter syndrome and anxiety that plague women across the globe.
Lee began her gymnastics career at the age of seven practicing on a homemade balance beam in her backyard made by her father. Since then, she has continued to excel and improve at the sport. In 2014, she joined the U.S. junior national team, and by 2018, she was winning national championships. However, her journey to the Olympics was not easy. In 2019, two days before the National Championships, her father had an accident that caused him to be paralyzed from the chest down. Despite this, Lee went on to win the silver in the all-around. A year later, Lee was devastated when the Olympics were postponed due to COVID-19, and her gym was shut down for months. Shortly after her gym reopened, she broke her foot, forcing her to take even more time off practice. COVID-19 not only affected her professionally, but it also greatly impacted her family. Lee lost her aunt and uncle to the disease and has had to grapple with the grief of losing two very close family members.
Suni Lee overcame this adversity, and eventually made it on to one of four spots on the U.S. Olympics women’s gymnastics team at the age of 18. During the gymnastics team final, Lee stepped up and completed an additional floor routine after Simone Biles withdrew from the competition, helping the U.S. team win silver. She won gold for the individual all-around, making history as the first Asian American champion in this category. She was also able to represent her community, as the first Hmong American athlete to compete in the Olympics.
Even after accomplishing one of the greatest feats in gymnastics, Lee has admitted to struggling with imposter syndrome. After the Olympics, she grappled with her confidence, stating that she “just put in [her] head that [she] didn't deserve to win.” Imposter syndrome describes feelings of inadequacy and doubt that exist regardless of one's competence. It is disproportionately experienced by women, and many have talked about their struggles with imposter syndrome, from former first lady Michelle Obama to actress Natalie Portman. Lee has been confronting her insecurity through methods like journaling and leaving notes to herself before meets like “you are good enough.” Lee has gone on to compete on Dancing with the Stars and done exceptionally well in college gymnastics. She made NCAA gymnastics history twice in just her first year competing for Auburn. In February, Lee debuted a skill called the Nabieva on the uneven bars for the first time in the NCAA.
Just like Lee, many of us struggle with imposter syndrome, but it’s important that we also take back our power and face these feelings. Imposter syndrome can feel overwhelming and discouraging, but as inspirations like Suni Lee demonstrate, we are all capable of achieving success in spite of it.
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