Cummins Family Rallies Behind Father of Gold-Medal Winner

Aug 13, 2021 8:45 AM ET
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Gymnastics gold medalist Suni Lee isn’t the only one in her family who demonstrated incredible perseverance to achieve a goal.

Lee’s father John, a Cummins Power Systems product engineer from Shoreview, Minnesota, has returned to work after falling while helping a friend trim a tree in 2019. The fall left him paralyzed from the chest down.

“I remember coming out of surgery and then watching Suni compete at the U.S. National Gymnastics Championships on television,” said John Lee, who built a balance beam in his backyard as his daughter’s interest in gymnastics grew. “She took second that year.”

Just as it took a countless number of coaches and team personnel, not to mention her friends and family, to get Suni Lee on the medal stand, John Lee had much the same behind him.

“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, Manager – Market Support Service Engineering 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 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.”

After a stint at the spinal cord unit of the local Veterans Administration medical center, the Navy veteran returned home two months after the accident. It would be about a year before he was cleared to return to work, in October 2020 as a Product Application Engineer. Like many Cummins employees, he is currently working from home due to the pandemic.

“Cummins has been great in accommodating me to come back to work,” John Lee 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.”

John Lee joined family and friends watching in Minnesota as his daughter won not just a gold medal, but a silver and a bronze, too, before the end of the competition in Tokyo. It was no surprise the tears were flowing when Suni Lee reunited with her family on the set of NBC’s “Today” show in New York City. “You did great,” said John Lee said hugging his daughter. “You were awesome.”

The same could be said of John Lee. Both father and daughter had achievements to celebrate.