Olympic Gymnast Suni Lee Opens Up About Being Diagnosed with Incurable Kidney Disease

Suni Lee attends as Glamour celebrates the 2022 Women of the Year Awards on November 01, 2022 in New York City.
Suni Lee attends Glamour’s 2022 Ladies of the Yr Awards on Nov. 1.Photograph:

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty

Suni Lee is opening up a couple of tough well being problem she’s going through as she units her sights on the 2024 Olympics.

Earlier this yr, the gymnast, 20, was identified with an incurable kidney illness that pressured her to chop brief her closing NCAA gymnastics season with Auburn College and put her coaching on pause for the final six months.

In a brand new interview with SELF journal, Lee detailed how her sickness unfolded. The Minnesota-born athlete stated she awoke one morning in February with swollen ankles however initially shrugged off the puffiness as a benign facet impact of all the extraordinary coaching she was doing within the fitness center. Nonetheless, the next morning her whole physique was swollen, together with her face, legs and fingers.

Her coach prompt searching for the recommendation of one of many USA Gymnastics Ladies’s Nationwide Staff physicians, Dr. Faustin. “The primary thought was, how can we work out the reply, and who do we have to communicate to?” Dr. Faustin informed SELF.

Gymnast Suni Lee competes in the balance beam on the final day of women's competition at the 2023 US Gymnastics Championships at the SAP Center on August 27, 2023
Suni Lee competes on the 2023 US Gymnastics Championships on Aug. 27.

LOREN ELLIOTT/AFP by way of Getty 

When Lee went onto the gymnastics gear, it grew to become instantly clear that her physique was not able to coaching. “I saved peeling off the bar. I couldn’t maintain on,” she recalled. “My fingers have been so swollen, and I couldn’t even do a traditional kip solid to handstand on bars.”

Her medical doctors initially suspected she is perhaps experiencing an allergic response, however the swelling endured for weeks. “I simply saved getting extra swollen…and I believe I gained, like, 40 kilos,” Lee stated. “It affected my entire physique and the way I appeared and the way I used to be feeling.”

She anxious that her profession can be over. “What if I’m by no means allowed to do gymnastics once more or I can by no means make it to the Olympics once more?” she recalled questioning.

After a number of medical checks yielded no solutions, Dr. Faustin requested Lee if she had performed a urine check, which prompted Lee to confess she had been having issue urinating for 2 weeks. Her urine labs flagged the necessity for additional testing, so Lee was despatched to a specialist who beneficial a kidney biopsy to search for indicators of harm or illness.

As her medical crew continued their investigating, Lee introduced on April 3 that she was ending her season at Auburn attributable to a “non-gymnastics health-related concern involving my kidneys.”

She revealed her analysis off the document to SELF however has determined to maintain it non-public for now as her medical doctors imagine the analysis might change upon extra testing. She did say that her situation is just not frequent and has no remedy. Her medical doctors are nonetheless fine-tuning a remedy plan for her that features remedy.

Sunisa Lee of Auburn competes on the uneven bars during a meet against Arkansas at Neville Arena on January 20, 2023 in Auburn, Alabama
Suni Lee competes on the uneven bars for Auburn College on Jan. 20.

Stew Milne/Getty 

Whereas Lee informed the journal she is glad she has solutions relating to her well being, she remains to be having a tough time accepting the life-changing analysis. “How do I simply randomly get up at some point swollen, and now I’m caught with this situation for the remainder of my life?” she stated.

Lee additionally worries that her illness will derail her Olympic comeback plans and future in her sport. “I take a look at myself on a regular basis in movies, and it makes me emotional as a result of I’m simply not the identical athlete I used to be earlier than,” she famous.

Nonetheless, she acknowledges that her story is way greater than her and will encourage different individuals going through comparable struggles.

“This comeback was a lot greater than my return to elite gymnastics. It was me proving to myself that I can overcome exhausting issues, and to hopefully encourage others to by no means let life’s setbacks cease you from going after your desires,” she wrote in an Instagram put up in August after returning to competitors within the 2023 Core Hydration Traditional.

Final month, she made a triumphant displaying on the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, the place she stood on the rostrum with a bronze end on beam.

She informed SELF, “We didn’t assume that I’d be right here. We didn’t know what was doable. We didn’t know what was fallacious with me — and right here I’m on the large stage, competing.”

Lee stated she nonetheless experiences extreme swelling, and the drugs she’s taking to handle her situation include their very own unintended effects. “We’re simply making an attempt to regulate to it and nonetheless studying how you can work by way of it,” she stated of her signs.

She’s needed to make modifications to maintain her situation in examine together with ensuring to eat extra continuously, lowering her salt consumption and constructing extra relaxation time into her coaching schedule. She additionally has needed to cross up alternatives — like competing within the World Inventive Gymnastics Championships in Belgium this week — to guard her physique.

“It was a really tough choice, however my well being is extra essential,” she stated on her Instagram Story on the time, based on Olympics.com.

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