Thursday, October 28

Laurie Hernandez: ‘Gymnastics felt like home, but coming back was unsettling’ | Gymnastics

When times have been tough and Laurie Hernandez wondered why she decided to go back to hammering and elite gymnastics perfectionism, one of the memories that has kept her moving forward was the moment she wanted to let go.

It was in early 2016 when the Olympics began to show that her frustration with injuries led her to consider stopping. She was away for about three days. When he started training for his comeback two years ago, he became a constant reference point during his older brother’s motivational speeches: “He was like, ‘You’re two years out! It will make sense that you want to quit now, when at the Olympic level you wanted to stop. You just have to hang on there. ‘

Staying there worked pretty well the first time. At age 16, Hernández became the first Latina gymnast in the U.S. to qualify for the Olympics, where she won a team gold medal and a silver medal in the balance beam. Its pure joy and charisma It marked her as the rising star in Rio and immediately opened doors for her in the entertainment industry, but it also belied her reality.

In April, Hernandez’s coach, Maggie Haney, was discovered to have subjected her to sustained verbal and emotional abuse during their time together. The experiences led Hernández to suffer from depression, panic attacks, and eating disorders. This year, USA Gymnastics banned Haney from training for eight years, which was reduced to five years in December due to a procedural error during the hearing.

Laurie Hernandez competes on the beam in Rio on her way to a silver medal.
Laurie Hernandez competes on the beam in Rio on her way to a silver medal. Photograph: Tim Clayton / Corbis / Getty Images

Those formative experiences in gymnastics are a big part of why Hernandez stayed away from gymnastics for two years. She believed she hated gymnastics and it took her a long time to unravel her true feelings, separating her resentment towards the abuse she received from the sport she still loved. “I knew this sport felt like home, but there was also something very unsettling about the idea of ​​coming back,” he says.

Such was the depth of his apathy towards gymnastics, when Hernández finally decided he wanted to return in 2018 came as a huge surprise even to his own parents. He soon began working with Jenny Zhang and Howie Liang, Kyla Ross’s renowned former trainers, who moved across the country from their home in New Jersey to Southern California. She says her positive and healthy environment has been transformative. “Before, when I was 16, I wasn’t worried about being perfect. I was worried about the repercussions and made sure to do the right thing to avoid those things. Whereas now I’m only here with gymnastics. That’s.”

If the Olympics do take place, a silver lining to the pandemic for Hernández is the simple value of time. Two years of preparation is an age in most sports, but in gymnastics it is nothing. He came back late and he knew it. Although she was making a lot of progress before returning to competition and says her routines were ready by March, there were some difficult skills she just didn’t have time to work on. He wasn’t necessarily showing everything he had.

“Before, we were just trying to get all these old skills back and put them together. It is as if now we can play a little and there is that respark, that joy of being able to physically test you. It has been wonderful, ”she says.

An example is the double design, the difficult somersault pass that opened up his floor routine and set the tone in Rio. She had decided to go ahead without him this year, but began training him when she returned to the gym after the lockdown. In November, the skill was in a cast. on his instagram. Trying harder has given you an even bigger boost than you bargained for.

“I remember coming back for the first time, looking at my trainers and feeling very insecure about my body and how much it had changed,” she says. “In 2016, it was as if here was this 16-year-old girl who has not yet gone through puberty, who is an Olympic weight and, at that moment, struggles with food. Soon after, it was like going through puberty and becoming who I am supposed to be and changing my body. I was really insecure about all that. “

Simone Biles and Laurie Hernandez celebrate with team gold in Rio
Simone Biles and Laurie Hernandez celebrate with team gold in Rio. Photograph: Mike Blake / Reuters

His coaches made it clear that puberty is not an impediment and his progress has reinforced that at 20 he is in the best shape of his life. “[They said]: ‘Hey, this extra oomph you got? We’re going to turn it into muscle and you’re going to be so powerful because you have it. It won’t stop you. It will make you better. ‘ They drilled it into my brain and still do now. I feel like doing that double design was very revealing because it felt so easy. “

His approach is an obvious and stark contrast to the way Hernandez was treated by her former coach, who frequently referenced her weight. “I felt like I was spoiled for wanting things to be a certain way,” she says. “An ideal environment, I wasn’t sure it existed. I was seeing how [other friends] they were being treated and I was like, ‘That’s worse, I understood that very well.’ I felt it was too much to ask if I wanted it to be better than it was before. While now alone is. “

Instead, going back to the gym has been challenging in different ways. Hernandez has had to face demons he had ignored and rejected for two years, and now he speaks openly after holding back so much for so long. In February, when she testified at her former coach’s hearing, the experience shook her, interrupted her training and withdrew from a national training camp. But he came back once more.

“There is a little boy in me who is always going to be afraid,” he says. “Talking about it is scary, but I also remember so many people coming out on social media and seeing so many people saying, ‘Hey, the same thing happened to me, I thought it was normal. I thought I had no reason to be hurt by this. But you went out and explained this to me. And I feel validated and seen. “

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