Health

Laurie Hernandez on How She’s Changed as a Gymnast Since the 2016 Olympics

What’s really interesting about having my job essentially be my hobby as well is that on days when I’m feeling a little rough or kind of gross, and not really wanting to do anything, but then knowing I have practice, it forces me to move. Having that freedom of movement and being able to go and exercise, it makes my body feel good. It makes me feel good.

Then there are times where moving and gymnastics are the reason why I need an outlet. So I like to come home and learn to cook or try to make a new dish. Or call my friends and connect with somebody. 

What has the journey of training for the Olympics and getting into that peak physical shape been like?

It’s been very important to have friends who are also professional athletes and Olympic hopefuls. Because there’s just this chaotic style of training inside and outside of practice that happens before the Olympics that not many people can understand. So it’s essentially been a lot of bringing it in the gym, and then leaving practice and doing my best to leave whatever happened at practice.

But there’ll be times where I’ll be trying to go to sleep, and then I’m suddenly visualizing routines in my brain. That’s how I know it’s mid-season—my brain is doing extra numbers in my sleep, essentially. But it’s what I did at 16, I would think about it consistently. Just because when you’re fully connected to it when the pressure is on, it makes that moment a lot easier to bear. So, lots of that! I’m real fun to be around. [Laughs]

Are you feeling a big sense of pressure leading up to your Olympics return?

Yeah, there’s always pressure, unfortunately. Most of it probably comes from myself. But there’s also a lot of outward pressure in having already done it. People know my name, they know the style of gymnastics that I do, they know the skills that I have done before. So a lot of people are looking to that. Hopefully, there won’t be a huge comparison—like, “Let’s see what she’s doing now versus at 16,” because that’s not the goal.

The goal is to get back out there in the body and the age and the brain that I have now and see how well I can do. So that’s the biggest thing, and that can feel like pressure sometimes. But at the end of the day, I’m just reminding myself that I’m doing this because it’s a choice, and I want to be there. If I want out, I can be done. But every time I give myself the option, I want it. I do want it, and I do want to do well.

How do you feel like you’ve changed as a gymnast since age 16? Has your personal growth and path shaped who you are on the floor?

I like to think so. I do think that the way that I do gymnastics now, at least to me, feels different. To other people, I don’t know if it looks any different, because of course, it’s the same me that was doing gymnastics before. But mentally, when I’m doing skills, I’m able to look at them in a different way.

And I notice it when I’m getting ready to compete. I remember being 16 and, like, I’m not nervous. I’m fine. I’m so confident, so great. Everything is wonderful! I don’t have a stomach ache from being so anxious, my hands aren’t sweaty. Everything is dandy! And just completely spiraling and having my fingers crossed. Whereas now, I’ll walk up there and be like, You know what? I am really nervous, yes. Yep, there’s no denying that, there’s no pushing it away, there’s no swapping it out or removing it. I am nervous, and that’s okay. I think that that mindset switch is an example of how gymnastics works differently now.

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