During the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, gymnast Suni Lee won a gold medal at the individual all-around finals and made history as the first Hmong American to compete at the Olympics. In the months that followed the Games, she started college at Auburn University and has become a standout contestant of this season of Dancing With the Stars. In an interview with PopSugar, she said that becoming a household name didn’t stop her from experiencing a recent anti-Asian attack.
Lee told the outlet that on a recent night out, she was with a group of friends, who are also of Asian descent, waiting for a rideshare car to arrive when a group drove by and began to yell racist slurs at them. She added that one of the passengers tried to pepper-spray her, ultimately hitting her arm.
“I was so mad, but there was nothing I could do or control because they skirted off,” she said. “I didn’t do anything to them, and having the reputation, it’s so hard because I didn’t want to do anything that could get me into trouble. I just let it happen.”
Since early 2020, media outlets have documented what The New York Times described as a “rising tide of anti-Asian bias nationwide,” which have included incidents involving hostile language and even violence. According to PopSugar, the first person Lee called after experiencing the attack was her longtime gymnastics coach Jess Graba, who also accompanied her to the Olympics in July.
Lee also said that she was drawn to DWTS because it gave her an opportunity to develop a fun skill set outside of her sport. “I was doing gymnastics for, like, 12 years, and I feel like I never had time to just do anything fun,” she said. “I really wanted to try and find myself on this show, because I feel like everything got taken away from me in gymnastics.” To compete on the show, she relocated to Los Angeles, but is seemingly planning to return to Auburn University so she can compete on their gymnastics team next season.
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