Olympic gold medalist Suni Lee says she was pepper-sprayed in racist attack

During her time in Los Angeles for her appearance on “Dancing with the Stars,” Olympic gold medal gymnast Suni Lee recalls being pepper-sprayed. Lee addressed the incident as racially motivated as the perpetrators drove by shouting racist slurs.

In an interview with PopSugar, the 18-year-old gymnast described how while waiting for an Uber ride after a night out with girlfriends, all of whom are of Asian descent, they were startled by a group speeding by in a vehicle.

The group was yelling racist slurs like “ching chong” and calling on the girls to “go back to where they came from.” Lee said that one passenger of the vehicle sprayed her arm with pepper spray as it sped off that evening. 

“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.”

Lee made history as the first Hmong American to compete in the Olympics, representing a group of people for whom athletics is not usually a career path.

About her heritage, Lee said, “I know that there’s a standard that Hmong girls have to live up to,” adding that she’s proud of carving a new journey for herself. Her sister, Shyenne Lee, mentioned that many within their community are inspired by her accomplishments: “You don’t really see a Hmong athlete, a girl, doing what she does.”

Lee is currently competing in Los Angeles on “Dancing with the Stars,” continuing to stay busy just two months after returning home from the Olympics in Tokyo. She noted that she is doing what she can to stay mentally healthy despite remaining busy and facing challenging moments.

“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 said. “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.”

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