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1st Hmong American’s Olympic gold inspires central Wisconsin community

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Kara Xiong WAOW photo

WAUSAU, Wis. (WAOW) -- The Hmong community is celebrating the first Hmong American Olympian.

Sunisa Lee, 18, won the gold medal in the gymnastics individual all around competition.

That win is energizing the Hmong community in central Wisconsin.

Lee made history in many ways at the 2020 Olympics.

Not only is she the first Hmong American woman to win gold -- she's the first Hmong American Olympian ever, and that's an inspiration to one area gymnast.

Kara Xiong has been on the YMCA's Whirlers gymnastics team for eight years.

The 12-year-old has had Olympic dreams since she started, and now, she says she knows they're possible.

"I've always dreamed of being an Olympian and I never really thought that would come true," Kara said, "But after Suni showing me… a dream can come true."

She said it was so exciting to see someone just like her compete, especially on her favorite events, the balance beam.

And not only is Lee inspiring Kara and other young gymnasts to chase after their dreams, she's bringing attention to Hmong Americans.

"She made the Hmong community stand out a lot more," Kara said.

That pride for Lee's gold, and the representation she brings, is being felt throughout Central Wisconsin.

"Representation really matters." Felysity Niles said, "Growing up, I always knew it mattered, but I never really thought about it and it never really hit me until Suni's win."

Niles said that seeing someone who looked like her and who had a similar background made her feel really special.

She's hoping it will help others become more aware of Hmong Americans and their heritage, and she's thankful that her community can have this celebration.

"For the longest time, we've shed a lot of tears of trauma." Niles said, "And now, we're shedding tears of joy and celebration."

And in Lee's home state of Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz declared July 30 Sunisa Lee Day.

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