Olympic gold medalist Suni Lee hasn’t had the easiest transition to the gymnastics team at Auburn after winning gold at the Tokyo Games last summer.
“I feel like after the Olympics, there’s just been so much doubt in like, ‘Oh, she shouldn’t have won Olympics, blah, blah, blah,’ and it really hits my soul,” Lee, who turned 19 last week, told ESPN in an interview published on Tuesday.
When Lee began her collegiate career with the Tigers, the freshman gymnast felt pressure to perform well — and prove that she earned her gold medal “because I think I just put in my head that I didn’t deserve to win,” she said.
“Like imposter syndrome — that’s exactly what I have. And it’s very hard. It was very hard for me to motivate myself the first couple of weeks here because it was like I didn’t want to do gymnastics, I hated it.”
Although “imposter syndrome” is not an official mental health condition, it is a belief that one is not deserving of something, an achievement or accomplishment. Those who experience imposter syndrome often feel phony or fraudulent.
The teenager was part of the United States’ Olympics gymnastics roster and took home the gold medal in the all-around in Tokyo last July before opening up about her mental health struggles.
She wasn’t the only member of the team dealing with them, either. Those same Games, Simone Biles withdrew from a number of events in order to prioritize her own mental health.
“I would have anxiety attacks at the meets,” Lee said about her Auburn debut. “Like the first couple of the meets of this season, I was a wreck because it was like constant screaming my name and like, ‘Suni, can you take a picture?’ or ‘Can you sign an autograph?’ while I’m trying to concentrate.”
Lee recalled a time when she was preparing for a gymnastics meet earlier in the season. At one point, she began shaking and breathing heavily and told Auburn coach Jeff Graba, “I can’t do this.”
“When everybody expects you to be good for Auburn, it’s really hard for me just mentally, because I already put so much pressure on myself that when I have that extra pressure stress added on to it, I just kind of break,” she said.
Lee said Graba has helped her to “flip the switch,” and understand what she “needs to be doing.”
In February, the freshman scored a perfect 10 on uneven bars and later that month recorded another 10 on balance beam.
Lee said that she has used journaling to help with her anxiety. She recently shared a page from her journal on Twitter, which included positive affirmations, such as, “Have fun” and “You are good enough.”