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Father of Olympic gymnast Suni Lee employed by Indiana-based Cummins

John Lee works at Cummins in Minnesota as a product application engineer.

SHOREVIEW, Minn. — Suni Lee has become the star of women's gymnastics at the Tokyo Olympics. But her road there has been paved with sacrifice and tragedy.

In 2019, as Lee prepared for the U.S. National Gymnastics Championships, her father fell from a ladder while helping a friend cut a limb from a tree.

"According to the doctor, I'm pretty much paralyzed from here down," John Lee said, holding his hand to his chest.

Suni didn't want to go compete, but her family urged her to go. 

"She's worked so hard for this," John said. "I tell her don't worry about me, just go and do well."

She placed second, just behind Simone Biles.

"I was in tears seeing my daughter up there with Simone Biles," John said at the time from his hospital room.

Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
All-around winner Simone Biles, center, stands on the podium with second place finisher Sunisa Lee, left, and third place finisher Grace McCallum after the senior women's competition at the 2019 U.S. Gymnastics Championships Sunday, Aug. 11, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo.

John's recovery and return to work would take time. John works for a branch of Indiana-based Cummins in Minnesota.

"His accident occurred on a Sunday and on Monday, we had multiple team meetings to discuss how we could support John and his family," said Dennis Shaw, a manager at Cummins. "At each turn, we wanted to be sure he had what he needed, from co-workers visiting him in the hospital and at home to helping with the short-term and long-term disability paperwork to ensuring that he had everything he needed in a role that was appropriate for him when he was able to begin working again."

Two months after his accident, John returned home using a wheelchair. It would be another year before he could return to work as a product application engineer.

"Cummins has been great in accommodating me to come back to work," John said. "I do everything a bit slower now and I've had to have speech therapy. My team helped me with the process of getting back—anything I need help with, Cummins has been very supportive."

He is currently working from home due to the pandemic. While he couldn't be in the stands at Tokyo due to COVID-19 restrictions, he has been watching and cheering her on from Minnesota. 

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