Two-time Olympic Medalist and Dancing With the Stars Champion Laurie Hernandez discussed gymnastics and mental health in a Friday night talk. During the event, Hernandez shared that her journey to Team U.S.A. was one characterized by injuries, setbacks and resilience.
The Cornell University Program Board, in collaboration with La Asociacion Latina, hosted the live talk and Q&A.
When 15-year old homeschooled Hernandez had to stop her gymnastics training due to a strained VMO muscle, she found herself suffering from all the signs of burnout and overwhelmed by the pressure of her sport. So, in March of 2016, she quit.
Though it only lasted three days,It only lasted three days — but Hernandez reflected back on her quitting as just one of many instances in which mental health has been a central topic throughout her gymnastics career.
When Hernandez competed at her first Elite Nationals, she came 22nd place out of 23 girls. In the face of this failure, she remembered her mom’s unwavering support.
“My mom is a social worker and therapist, my sister’s also a therapist. Even though I’m Puerto Rican — a lot of times in Hispanis households mental health is not something you usually talk about — my mom wanted me to constantly talk about my feelings,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez recalled that after the competition, her mom took her out for ice cream to celebrate, despite her not winning.
“I look back on this memory and recognize she instilled in me his concept of gratitude and just embracing where you’re at with no expectations of what is coming or what has happened,” Hernandez said.
Throughout the night, Hernandez emphasized the importance of her support system, especially in moments of hardship.
“The times I wanted to quit was when my parents and siblings all came together and they gave love,” Hernandez said.
Yet, Hernandez also described her feelings of intense burnout, which led to her almost quitting gymnastics altogether.
“When it comes to burnout, you have to schedule breaks for yourself. You have to take the time to sleep. You have to take the time to eat. You have to take the time to connect with your community. If you don’t take that time, burn out once again in your body and your brain will decide when you take a break and it’s going to be the most inconvenient point in your life,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said that after winning a silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, she continued to rethink the way she was training to try and prevent burnout.
“In our society, we are taught that you have to give 110 percent every single day. I remember saying to my therapist, ‘I’m putting 200 percent every day, and I’m not getting any better,’” Hernandez said, “I remember her telling me that the goal is not to die trying but to see how long you can survive before the end.”
After her talk, she opened the floor to the audience for a Q&A moderated by Cornell gymnast Calista Brady ’24.
Audience members asked questions about how Hernandez overcomes mental blocks, lessons she has learned in career and how she is navigating meeting new people as a freshman at New York University.
CUPB’s Executive Chair Mimi Canter explained why Hernandez stood out as an exciting speaker to bring to campus.
“Being an Olympian represents being in the highest possible echelon of your sport,” Canter said. “Also, the fact she is a fellow New York state student is really cool.”
Hernandez ended the discussion talk by connecting her mental health journey in gymnastics to that in her everyday life now as a student.
“As a college student, the feeling I get before I compete is the same feeling I get before I take a midterm. Anxiety is anxiety. Take what I’ve said in the last 25 minutes and apply it to your own life — where can you take breaks?” Hernandez said. “It’s important to take care of other people, but don’t forget about yourself. Hang in there. You got this.”