ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - Students at Battle Creek Elementary in St. Paul thought they were gathering for a special back-to-school event on Thursday, participating in E-STEAM (Environmental Stewardship, Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) activities.
Instead, the kids got a big surprise in the form of Olympian and Battle Creek alum Sunisa Lee, one year after she became the gold medal all-around champion in gymnastics.
"Just to be back at my old school, seeing all my old teachers, seeing my old classroom... I just have such great memories here, and I loved it so much," said Lee.
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Lee had a chance to connect with students and with some of her old teachers, like Scott Richards, who worked as a physical education teacher for more than 30 years.
"As a gym student, she was extremely strong, coordinated, always cooperative with her classmates, a really good team player," said Richards.
Richards taught Lee in the 4th grade and shared a photo with us taken as she was showing off some regional competition medals.
Suni Lee in 4th grade with her regional gymnastic competition medals. (Photo courtesy of Scott Richards)
"She says, 'Yeah, I'm aware of the scholarships, but I have one goal to win the gold medal,'" said Richards.
After taking a walk down memory lane, Fox 9 caught up with Lee, who says she's focusing on competing for her college, but isn't ruling out another Olympic run in 2024.
"As of right now, I'm just kind of going with the flow, seeing what my body can do what my mental can do... The last Olympics was very hard on my body and my mental, and I'm just trying to take it day by day," said Lee.
Part of that includes speaking out more about her mental health.
"I feel like not a lot of people speak about it. People are scared about what people are going to say, and that was definitely something I was scared of. Being more vocal about it has helped me, personally," said Lee, who left students embarking on a new school year with this message.
"Keep pursuing your dreams. Don't let anyone tell you what you can and can't do."
Lee teamed up with Amazon for the event, which made $50,000 in donations to the school.