When a professional football player stars in the Super Bowl, he's immediately feted.

There is copious confetti. Family members gather on the field. Much of the crowd remains during the trophy presentation. One star gets to say, "I'm going to Disney World!"

When St. Paul's Suni Lee won the women's all-around gold medal in gymnastics at the Tokyo Olympics, her immediate rewards were a drug test, hours of waiting and, eventually, cold pizza.

There were few people other than competitors, Olympic officials and journalists in the Ariake Gymnastics Center during the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 because of COVID restrictions. When Lee stuck a landing, only her teammates cheered, their shouts ringing tinnily through the arena.

Between events, she stood to the side, pantomiming her routines, preparing as if no one was watching, which in this case was strangely close to the truth.

Lee, an 18-year-old daughter of Hmong immigrants who settled in St. Paul, would win the all-around gold, making her one of the best of all Minnesota sports stories.

And then … it was over, and Lee had to find a way to stick a real-life dismount.

She went through the new-sports-celebrity car wash of TV appearances and unique invitations. She attended Auburn University, where she worked under coach Jeff Graba, a United States team assistant and brother of her longtime coach in St. Paul, Jess Graba, and became a strange campus phenomenon — an incoming freshman who is also a worldwide celebrity.

In recent months, she revealed to Self magazine, she has experienced swelling in her ankles, gained "about 40 pounds" and was diagnosed with incurable kidney disease, which caused her to pause her training for six months.

"She wins in Tokyo, and it's this great moment," Jess Graba said. "Then the first year or two there was a lot of, I suppose, unexpected celebrity.

"I think there was a definite learning curve. She had just turned 18, and now she's going on 'Dancing With the Stars' and living in L.A. for a time and then going to college. She's having all of these learning experiences and life experiences that come at you really fast. That was hard to deal with, I think, at first."

Lee finished fourth in the all-around at the XFinity U.S. Gymnastics championships last month in Texas, a result that was promising, given what she's gone through, but that also highlights the difficulty of repeating her unexpected Olympic victory. She will compete for a spot on the U.S. team at the Olympic trials in Minneapolis, beginning Friday.

"These last 18 or 19 months, dealing with kidney disease and stuff hitting and not knowing how sick you were going to be the rest of your life, to not thinking you'd ever be able to do gymnastics, to playing with gymnastics just to get your mind off of it, and then realizing that you could do something fun with it … and here we are," Jess Graba said.

Where Lee is now is living in St. Paul and working with Graba, having retired from collegiate gymnastics. "I think she liked Auburn," Graba said. "It was just so different. She didn't have a normal college experience. That was part of it. My brother, being the coach there, said it was pretty crazy.

"She comes to college and within two weeks she's got to have security. She liked the team, she liked the gymnastics, she liked the campus, and she still goes down to some football games. She has friends she visits on occasion. It was just a lot."

Which is one way to describe that fateful day in Tokyo. U.S. star Simone Biles had withdrawn for mental health reasons. Jess Graba thought that Lee would have a chance to contend for gold even if Biles was healthy.

"That particular day we had so much going on," Graba said. "We had changed our floor routine and we were doing a lot of numbers in our head. Suni had a lot on her plate. With Simone not competing, a lot of pressure came down on Suni.

"Simone is the greatest gymnast around, but she can still make mistakes, and our plan was always to be close enough to her that if she made a mistake, we'd be right there. And because Simone tries really, really hard gymnastics, the chance of her making a mistake is always there."

After Lee won, she and Graba waited 90 minutes for her to be drug-tested. They conducted interviews. Then they waited.

"It was anticlimactic, because, especially with COVID restrictions, there wasn't much to do. Finally, hours later, we got back to the hotel. Other coaches had ordered pizza, but there were no microwaves, so we ate it cold."

Gold medal, cold pizza. Could become the title of Suni Lee's memoirs.