All Eyes on Suni Lee

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As she continues to carve out a path for her next move, like any 18-year-old, exploring her independence is at the forefront. College was always part of Suni’s plan. She committed to Auburn, where Jess’s twin brother, Jeff Graba, heads the gymnastics team, over four years ago. And her Olympics success hasn’t changed that decision. Suni is admittedly not big on academics, but she’s itching for a “normal” college experience.

“I lost my whole childhood to gymnastics,” she says, recalling a strict schedule devoid of football games and high school parties. “Since I sacrificed all of that, I wanted to have the college experience and get what I couldn’t have [in high school] . . . I wanted to be treated normal.” But when DWTS called with an opportunity to compete on its 30th season, she couldn’t pass it up.

Perhaps maintaining momentum was a factor, but what she really desired was to try something different. “I was doing gymnastics for, like, 12 years, and I feel like I never had time to just do anything fun,” Suni says. Luckily, the show has offered a sense of independence as it’s forced her to embark on a new, albeit temporary, adventure in LA. “I really wanted to try and find myself on this show, because I feel like everything got taken away from me in gymnastics,” she explains.

Week after week, Suni has continued to come into her own — people like Shyenne and Jess, who’ve known her her whole life, can see it, and the average viewer, like me, can see it, too. “She finally gets to show some emotion, be herself, and discover who she is outside of gymnastics,” Shyenne says. While Suni’s smiling and dancing like a pro on screen, her taxing schedule still takes a toll on her mentally and physically. On the Nov. 1 episode of DWTS, Suni pushed through her Queen Week performance despite a serious bout with nausea. She admits that tending to her wellness has been difficult, but she’s learning to open up about her feelings and bandwidth. Days after the incident, she shared on Instagram that her mental health could be better.

“When I shared that I was feeling down, so many people reached out and either sent positive messages of encouragement or told me they were feeling similarly and not to feel alone,” she says. “It’s OK to feel down sometimes, but what I’ve realized is that it’s important to express your feelings and ask for help. In the past, I might have pushed on and not acknowledged the state of my mental health. But there’s so much power in owning your feelings. It’s not weakness, it’s actually taking control.”

That awareness alone exhibits a level of maturity that’s not common for most 18-year-olds. “Her life hasn’t stopped since the gold medal,” Jess says, yet she continues to show up.

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