Laurie Hernandez is a gymnast. That’s what everyone knows her as. That’s what a Google search with her name will tell you. But Laurie Hernandez is, of course, much more than that. Remezcla had a chance to talk to Hernandez during the L’ATTITUDE event, which seeks to celebrate Latinos and counts Nike as one of its sponsors. Hernandez, who was part of the panel Expanding the footprint of Wellness: Building a Culture of Belonging & Inclusivity, was very candid about the role gymnastics has played in her life, the person she is now outside of it, and what the future has in store for her.
The conversation was, first and foremost, centered on mental health. It’s something Hernandez took care to highlight, sharing that having big names like Nike support conversations about “minorities, about the Latino community,” and about the lack of mental health resources is very important. In particular, when discussing our communities, she referenced how so many people “can’t afford to take care of themselves,” and that makes the process of raising awareness all the more important.
“Trying to only train your body and completely skip your mind will immediately, essentially, lead you to failure,” Hernandez said during the panel, an idea she reinforced by sharing her own mental health struggle and what the change in environment – and focus on being well mentally – did for her.
But Hernandez also looked forward to a post-gymnastics life and what that transition has been like for her. She shared that “it’s a struggle for everyone,” but it’s also been really important for her to realize she’s more than gymnastics. “There’s so much more to life, and there’s more things that I can do, [things] that I know I love.”
In that respect, she also told us she’s lucky that she’s been able to “find multiple things I’m passionate about.” And for Hernandez, that includes pop culture. “Music is a big one,” she shared, adding that she has playlists for imaginary scenarios that she listens to while in the subway, acting. That makes sense as she’s just starting at New York University, where she is majoring in drama. “I consume television and movies like no other,” she said, something that is pretty obvious from the stream of commentary on her Twitter feed.
And like us, she thinks about representation, about seeing herself in the media she consumes. But as someone who has been the representation for many little girls, Hernandez has a clear idea of what that means. “For me, representation is done best when I’m just following my heart and going after the things that I love. Before, that looked like gymnastics. Now, that looks like acting and being able to work really hard at that,” she says.
But it’s not just being present and visible. It’s about living your life without worrying about how you represent others. “Be yourself and you are already an inspiration,” Hernandez was clear. “That’s it.”
She also had advice for people starting out again, like she is. “You don’t have to throw your old self out and your old experiences to be able to receive a new one,” she said. “You can acknowledge the experiences you had.” And while for her, sometimes looking back at her gymnastics career feels like looking at another person, that isn’t the case. That kid is still “within me, is me, and she’s always gonna be there.” But that person you were doesn’t have to continue being all you are.
“[R]epresentation is done best when I’m just following my heart and going after the things that I love. Before, that looked like gymnastics. Now, that looks like acting and being able to work really hard at that.”
“I can acknowledge that and then still kinda turn the page and realize that I carry this and now there’s space for another version of me.” And going into new environments trying to hang onto the past just makes things difficult. “At some point, you have to relax and know that you don’t have to hang on to who you used to be. It’s always gonna be there, and you can have room for everything.”
Laurie Hernandez is a gymnast. A gold medalist. She will always be. But Laurie Hernandez is also so much more, and the things she can still achieve, influence, and create are something she will have to discover for herself. And, going forward, her fans can follow along as she embarks on the most important journey of all — finding her own place in life.