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Who is Suni Lee? Her dad shares the Olympic gymnast's story

The 18-year-old made history at the Olympics.
/ Source: TODAY

When U.S. gymnast Suni Lee took the floor in Tokyo, she made history as the first Hmong American to compete in the Olympics.

"I am proud. The family's proud," dad John Lee told TODAY’s Craig Melvin before she competed, in the latest episode of the digital series, "Dads Got This." "The community is very proud of her."

Sunisa, who is 18 and goes by Suni, finished second behind Simone Biles to secure her spot on the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team.

"It's unreal, you know? There's only four spots available and so she made it, and that’s pretty tough," Lee said.

It's clear tenacity runs in the family.

In August 2019, two days before Suni competed at Nationals, Lee fell off a ladder while helping a neighbor. Paralyzed from the chest down, the Olympic dad is slowly relearning how to move.

"My hands are getting stronger. My balance is not so great, but I'm learning how to cope with that," Lee shared. "Before I got hurt I always told Sunisa, 'If you make it to the Olympics, I'm gonna run out there and do a backflip.' But I can't do it now."

John Lee always promised his daughter Suni that if she made the Olympics, he'd do a backflip. After a 2019 left him paralyzed, he can't do a flip, but he'll be cheering for Suni as she competes on the U.S. Olympic gymnastic team in Tokyo.TODAY

While he might not be about to land a backflip, Lee shared his secret for raising an Olympian.

"I talk to her, I motivate her," he said, adding he built a beam in the family's backyard to help Suni train because he could not afford a real beam. "But the real secret is: I think it's her. I think she's pretty natural."

Suni Lee is the first Hmong American to compete for the U.S. in the Olympics, and her dad couldn't be prouder.Lindsay Wasson / Reuters

Because of travel restrictions, the proud dad watched his daughter compete alongside family from their home in Minnesota.

"As I watch her I'll be thinking, 'If she bring home a couple of medals, hopefully a couple of gold, I mean, that would be so great for the family, the community, and for the USA'," Lee said.

And when Suni took the gold medal in the women’s gymnastics individual all-around competition, no one was more excited than her father.

“There’s no word that can express this right now,” he told Al Roker and Craig Melvin when he called in to the 3rd hour of TODAY on Thursday from his Minnesota home. “I don’t think she can have any words to express, either. I could see it in her eyes that she was crying, so I know she’s excited and happy and we’re so proud of her.”