Gymnast Suni Lee Feared She'd Never Compete Again After Incurable Kidney Disease Diagnosis

suni lee incurable kidney disease
Suni Lee's Incurable Kidney Disease DiagnosisJamie Squire - Getty Images

Gymnast Suni Lee is gearing up for the Summer Olympics after winning the all-around title in 2021.

The 21-year-old just finished fourth in the national championships and is getting ready to appear at the Team USA trials at the end of June. But Suni just revealed that she’s been quietly going through a serious health journey on the sidelines.

Suni also hinted at her health issues in an Instagram post about her finish at the national championships, writing, “This one hit different. see you at Olympic trials!!!!🥹😭❤️” in the caption.

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

What happened to Suni Lee?

Suni just shared in an interview with SELF magazine 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.

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.)

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’s on the mend and is so “excited” to get back out there.

Suni has been through a lot, and it sounds like there’s still more happening with her health. But she’s also optimistic about the future.

“This comeback was so much more than my return to elite gymnastics,” she said 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 previously told Women’s Health that she’s focused on her training. “At the end of the day, I know I'm the only person that can go into the gym and work my butt off and make sure that I'm doing everything that I can possible to make this next Olympics,” she said.

Suni said she’s “feeling a lot better” and is in remission right now. “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.”

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