By Pafoua Yang

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota gymnasts Sunisa Lee and Grace McCallum stepped up at the Olympics after Simone Biles exited the team final competition. The U.S. earned a silver medal with Russia taking home gold.

Sunisa tweeted Tuesday night that she’s never been more proud of her team, and that they’re winners in their hearts.

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Lee’s family celebrated the performance during an early morning Tuesday watch party.

“Even though we can’t go and support her in-person, I’m glad that we could share with the world,” said John Lee, Sunisa’s father. “We’re just all so happy, we cheered her on. We had the full house so we were pretty loud.”

John Lee, Sunisa Lee’s father (credit: CBS)

Visitors aren’t allowed at the Tokyo Olympics due to COVID restrictions, but Lee’s family has been doing their best to be the light and encouragement Lee needs.

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“Before she goes to competition I usually talk to her,” said John.

The St. Paul athlete is the first ever Hmong-American Olympian. The road to get to her achievements didn’t come easy. Sunisa had suffered through a leg and foot injury last year. In 2019 her dad fell off a ladder and became paralyzed from the chest down. The tragedy happened just before Lee was going to compete in the national championships in Kansas City.

“She almost didn’t go because I was in surgery. Her and her coach came over and I woke up and said, ‘You worked so hard for it, just go,'” John said.

Sunisa placed 2nd under Biles in the national championships.

“Sunisa, she’s very persistent. Whatever she sets her mind to, she’ll go for it,” said John.

It’s that mindset that John said makes Sunisa ready to take on her next challenge in Tokyo on Thursday.

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The Lee family will host a watch party at Brothers Event Center in Oakdale Thursday morning. Anyone is welcomed, as long as they follow Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

Pafoua Yang