FORT WORTH, Texas — Suni Lee has been waiting for this.
The U.S. gymnastics championships, the first step toward securing a spot on the Tokyo Olympic team, yes. More so, however, for her father to be able to watch her compete in person.
Lee’s father, John, was in the arena Friday night for the first time since an accident almost two years ago left him partially paralyzed.
"It means a lot," John Lee said. "Especially now that Sunisa is getting close to the end of her (elite) gymnastics career and ... I’m able to come and watch it. It means a great deal."
His daughter immediately made the trip worthwhile, performing a gorgeous uneven bars routine that, if she makes it to Tokyo, will make her a contender for the gold medal.
On Aug. 4, 2019, just before Suni Lee left for the national championships, John Lee fell off a ladder while helping a friend trim a tree. The accident injured his spinal cord, paralyzing him from the chest down initially. John Lee also broke his right wrist and fractured several ribs.
He remains in a wheelchair, and said he is doing electronic stimulation on his legs.
Suni Lee decided to go ahead to nationals in 2019, where she finished second to Simone Biles in the all-around competition. Two months later, she established herself as a serious contender for Tokyo at the world championships, winning a silver medal on floor exercise and a bronze on uneven bars in addition to the team gold with the U.S. women.
But her father was never far from her mind. In Stuttgart, Germany, she beamed when she talked of being able to FaceTime with her father, who was still at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, ahead of qualifying.
"I was really proud," said John Lee, who said he got a computer just so he could watch his daughter. "I was so amazed that she made the worlds."
John Lee said the last time he saw his daughter compete in person was about three years ago. But she’s in a very different spot now, a favorite for the Olympic team. And no way was John Lee going to miss this.
He and his wife drove from Minneapolis with their three youngest children, Evionn, Lucky and Noah. The trip took about 16 hours, but they arrived in time to see Suni before she went to the arena for warm-ups.
"I just told her, 'Go out there, just go have fun, don’t worry about anything, just enjoy,' " John Lee said. "Do your best."
With her biggest cheerleader in the crowd, how could she not?
Follow Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Sunisa Lee gets big motivation ahead of biggest meets of her career