Suni Lee Shares How She Reworked Gymnastics Training Amid Kidney Diseases

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Suni Lee’s Incurable Kidney Disease DiagnosisGetty Images

As she gears up for second Olympic Games at the end of the month, Suni Lee’s next stop is Paris. But before she heads off to the City of Love, she’s showing some appreciation to an organization close to her heart.

Suni was diagnosed with an incurable kidney disease in 2023. Now, she's partnering with the American Kidney Fund to help raise awareness for others who may unknowingly be going through the same thing.

“My experience with kidney disease has been challenging—and I’ve worked so hard to persevere in the face of a life-changing diagnosis to be able to represent my country in Paris this month,” Suni wrote in a July 11 Instagram post. “I know firsthand that kidney disease can happen at any age, and sometimes the cause of your disease isn’t clear-cut. But I want to encourage others to be informed about their kidney health and self-advocate for a treatment plan that can allow them to live their best life.”

So, making the team this year was an "incredible journey," Suni told TODAY host Hoda Kotb in a post-Trials interview.

"There were so many times where I thought about quitting and just giving up because I was so sick," she said. "But once I had those people around me who lifted me up and supported me and just made sure that I was good, I knew that this is something that I wanted."

So what’s going on with Suni, and how is her health now? Here’s what she’s shared.

What happened to Suni Lee?

In 2023, Suni shared in an interview with SELF that she was recently diagnosed with incurable kidney disease. The gymnast said she had to finish her NCAA gymnastics season at Auburn University early due to her diagnosis, and put her training on pause for the last six months.

About a month after she first developed symptoms, she stopped training entirely, left Auburn, and moved back home.

“I was just rotting in my bed,” she told Sports Illustrated. “I couldn’t talk to anybody. I didn’t leave the house.”

What is incurable kidney disease?

Suni didn’t share an exact diagnosis with the public, but she did reveal that her condition has no cure. Her medical team also thinks her diagnosis may change as they learn more about what’s happening with her health, SELF reports. (The magazine also notes that her condition isn’t common.)

Her doctors later realized that Suni had two forms of kidney disease, according to Sports Illustrated.

How do you stop kidney disease from getting worse?

There are two main causes of kidney disease, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA): diabetes and high blood pressure. With that, there are a few things that many people with kidney disease can do to stop the progression of the condition.

That includes managing your blood pressure, monitoring your blood glucose, eating a kidney-friendly diet, exercising regularly, and being cautious about taking OTC medications and supplements.

Suni first experienced symptoms in February 2023 and gained 40 pounds.

Suni shared that she first developed symptoms when she woke up one morning with swollen ankles, which she originally thought was due to her intense training. But her entire body was swollen the next morning, including her face, legs, and hands.

Her doctors originally thought Suni was having an allergic reaction, but the swelling didn’t go down. “I just kept getting more swollen…and I think I gained, like, 40 pounds,” Suni said "It affected my whole body and how I looked and how I was feeling."

After Suni told her doctor that she was having trouble urinating, she underwent more tests and eventually had a biopsy of her kidneys. That led to her diagnosis.

She thought she might never be able to do gymnastics again.

Suni said that she was understandably scared while doctors tried to work out a diagnosis. When she tried to train, she found that she couldn’t perform the way she normally did.

“I kept peeling off the bar. I couldn’t hold on,” Suni said. “My fingers were so swollen, and I couldn’t even do a normal kip cast to handstand on bars.”

She remembered thinking, “What if I’m never allowed to do gymnastics again or I can never make it to the Olympics again?”

She had to rework her training.

After her kidney diseases forced her to press pause on training for a few months, Suni had to take measures to work around her conditions.

"The kidney disease took me out for a couple of months," Suni told E! News in March 2024. "I just got a lot weaker because I wasn't in the gym training. I've been doing a lot of physical therapy and try to keep my body as healthy as possible and feeling good."

Suni called her training "a learning process," adding that she and her team are "taking it day by day."

“My coaches have never had to deal with someone who has had two kidney diseases,” Suni told NBC at the Team USA Media Summit in April. “Obviously, I’m like, ‘Okay, I don’t know any other gymnasts that have two kidney diseases that have had to go through this.’"

She’s on the mend and is so 'excited' to get back out there.

Suni nabbed a bronze medal on beam at the 2023 U.S. Championships, but declined an invitation to the world team selection camp in 2023 a few weeks later, per NBC Sports.

“I think my lowest point was after championships,” Suni told the outlet at the Team USA media summit. “I don't know. I pulled out of the world championship selection camp and I stopped doing gymnastics for four months.”

But things started to turn around for Suni in January 2024, when she got a phone call that changed everything. “It was just, like, a simple phone call,” she told NBC Olympics. “I can’t really talk about it, but it was a simple phone call. And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I'm going to the gym tomorrow and I'm gonna be better than I ever was.’ And that was the day I was like, ‘Yep, this is what I want. And I'm gonna put my mind into it.’"

“That’s when she started saying, ‘I think they’re getting a handle on it,’ ” her trainer Jess Graba told Sports Illustrated.

Suni is now on medication to help control her conditions, and they're now in remission. “We have it under control now,” she told CBS News at a Team USA media summit. “We know what to do and the right medication to take.”

The Minnesota native knows that this is uncharted territory for her—and for her training team. “My coaches have never had to deal with someone who has had two kidney diseases,” she told NBC Olympics at the Team USA media summit. “And obviously, I'm like, ‘Okay, I don't know any other gymnasts that have two kidney diseases that have had to go through this.’ So it's all a learning process. And we're taking it day by day.”

But she’s also optimistic about the future. “This comeback was so much more than my return to elite gymnastics,” she wrote on Instagram last year. “It was me proving to myself that I can overcome hard things, and to hopefully inspire others to never let life’s setbacks stop you from going after your dreams.”

Suni told Women’s Health at the Team USA Media Summit that she’s focused on her training and is doing "everything possible" to make the Paris team.

“It feels really good to be able to just go out and to wake up in the morning and be able to go to practice,” she said. “My doctor told me that we would never thought that I would be here, so it feels really good to be able to be doing gymnastics.”

Good luck, Suni!

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