Suni Lee’s confession to being pepper sprayed in a recent racist incident may have contributed to her mental health crisis on “DWTS”


Gymnast Suni Lee returned from Tokyo with three medals to her credit, the opportunity to appear on Dancing with the stars, and a bright future ahead. But none of this protected her from facing major struggles. Following a racist incident, Lee struggled emotionally. But it’s clear she’s not the only athlete struggling with mental health issues. People are more and more open to the experience.

Suni Lee pepper sprayed at a party

Suni Lee is interviewed by Kelly Clarkson | Weiss Eubanks / NBCUniversal / NBCU Photo Bank

Lee has some impressive accomplishments under his belt for someone so young. The 18-year-old won three Olympic medals this summer, one gold, one silver and one bronze. According to Pop sugar, she is a first year student at Auburn University. And she recently appeared in the hit TV contest Dancing with the stars.

But all of these exploits are not enough to protect her from the rise of anti-Asian sentiment in the United States. Recently Lee, who is Hmong, was out for the evening with friends who are also of Asian descent. While waiting for their Uber, they were accosted by people in cars.

The group yelled at the young women, shouting racist phrases and telling them to “go back to where they came from”. One of them even sprayed Lee with pepper spray before leaving.

“I was so angry, but there was nothing I could do or control because they got around.” She further explained, “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 in trouble. I just let it go.

Lee struggled on “Dancing with the Stars”

Although Lee may have felt helpless at the time, she is clearly a strong person. Parade reports that before a performance on DWTS, she caught a virus in her stomach that almost stopped her from dancing.

“Right before the dance started we were standing in the tunnel and about 10 seconds later she threw up in her mouth and tears started to flow and she started to walk away saying, ‘No, I can’t do it, ”” explained her dance partner Sasha Farber. “I was like ‘Suni, you have this. Come on. It’s game time.

Lee made it through the dance. But as soon as it was over, she fled from the scene and “to a trash can.” She immediately sought medical treatment.

Stomach issues weren’t the only thing Lee had to deal with. She then shared on social media that she was also having emotional difficulties. Perhaps the stress of being the target of a racist incident, as well as the pressure to occur while she was ill had affected her more than she expected.

Suni Lee isn’t the only athlete battling mental health

Athletes like Lee are supposed to be strong and play with pain, but it’s not always as easy as fighting nausea. This summer, Lee’s teammate on the U.S. gymnastics team, Simone Biles, endured a very public battle with mental health issues.

According to Today, Biles suffered from a condition known as “the twisties,” which made her confused when she twisted in the air. She said her mental health issues triggered the illness. Although she adores gymnastics, the experience has scared her to participate fully in the sport.

Biles and Lee are part of a movement to recognize the impact of mental health on athletes, even at the Olympic level. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps has openly shared that he’s battling depression, and he’s partnered with an online therapy company to stress the importance of therapist support.

While there has been a stigma against admitting that someone is having emotional difficulties, that is starting to change.

“It’s good to feel depressed sometimes, but what I realized is that it’s important to express your feelings and ask for help,” Lee said. “… There is so much power to owning your feelings. It’s not weakness, it’s actually a takeover.

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