She's made history as an Olympic gymnast. She's also healing from abuse.
The living room of the gymnast Laurie Hernandez is adorned with many photos. But two are the special ones - one shows their parents praying before their performance at the 2016 Olympics, and the other shows them hugging them afterwards.
"I love these photos," Hernandez told NBC News. "Going to the Olympics and competing and then looking in the crowd and seeing my parents was one of the cutest things I could ever do ... It's just a great reminder of the amount of support my parents gave me all of it. "
Her Puerto Rican parents, Wanda and Anthony Hernandez, watched their then-teenage daughter make history as the first Latina gymnast to represent the United States in the Olympics for more than three decades - while bringing home a few medals. Hernandez won silver on the balance beam and gold on the team event along with fellow American gymnasts, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman and Madison Kocian.
“There were so many representatives, from black women to white women, a Hispanic girl. I think that was a really important thing that only the globe could see,” said Hernandez.
Hernandez said her fans will learn more about how she trained during the coronavirus pandemic and how "I grew up and who my parents are" as an actor on the new Peacock Original documentary series "True Colors" with her and other Hispanic pioneers Mario Lopez, former professional baseball player Alex Rodriguez and Congressman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez among others.
"You will get a really good sense of why I am who I am and why my siblings are like us," said Hernandez, who is currently training for the Tokyo 2021 Olympics. "It was definitely a crazy ride. I'm only 20 and I feel like I've lived three lives."
Image: Lauren Hernandez (Telemundo)
Hernandez recalls that he had a great passion for the sport from a young age. When she was a little girl training in New Jersey, she looked at her parents and said, "Hey, like I want to go to the Olympics ... I have all these crazy dreams."
"You could very easily have said, 'You are a child. You came out of the womb nine years ago, maybe let's try something different.' But they did it. Instead, they hit me with, 'Well, if that's what you want, then how can we help you?' "Hernandez recalled.
At the 2016 Olympics, her parents prayed "that I won't obliterate" while they competed, she said.
"I didn't notice it until after Rio. We'd all sit away from the cameras and talk about it. And they thought we really wondered if we were good parents by letting you stay in because you get hurt and always." over and over again what is part of the sport, "said Hernandez. "But after they had an operation in 2014, they saw how determined I was and they said, 'OK, we can't take this away from her.'"
Combating the effects of abuse, working on the cure
Under all of this, Hernandez's passion for gymnastics was slowly marred when he trained under coach Maggie Haney, who coached her for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Wanda Hernandez filed a complaint with USA Gymnastics that same year after hearing a FaceTime conversation with her former teammate about a time when Haney was pulling on this gymnast's lock of hair.
USA Gymnastics opened a case earlier this year to investigate allegations that Haney had verbally and emotionally abused Turner like Hernandez while training. Hernandez and other Turner testified during the hearings of the case.
"It was like opening an old wound," she said. "I don't think it ever really healed."
During an 80-minute testimony at the U.S. gymnastics hearing in February, Hernandez said the abuse sparked eating disorders and depression, which she continues to fight to this day. After a weeklong hearing, an independent gymnastics hearing panel in the United States banned Haney for eight years after discovering she had violated her Code of Ethics and Safe Sport Guidelines.
The suspension was a major step by USA Gymnastics in transforming the overall culture of the sport, which many gymnasts criticized after the sexual abuse scandal involving former national team doctor Larry Nassar, who is now serving a life sentence for molesting more than 200 girls and women.
"I'm just glad USA Gymnastics was able to do the right thing and do something about it instead of just dropping things off," said Hernandez. "It's important for other people to see that this type of behavior, especially with children, is wrong."
Image: Lauren Hernandez (Telemundo)
Therapy has become part of Hernandez's healing process, which "was not unnatural to be discussed with her mother who is a social worker and her sister who is a therapist".
Although Hernandez is now training with a new coach in California, getting back into the gymnastics environment can be difficult, she said.
"It's new and safe, but it was still quite triggering. So there has been a lot of healing, a lot of conversation about trying to get back into physical, old patterns, conditioning, practicing and what it was like," she said.
While she continues to train for 2021, with the support of her "close-knit Puerto Rican family", Hernandez reconnects with her love of gymnastics.
"I'm just looking forward to 2021," said Hernandez. "I think this extra year helped in the sense that I had more time to upgrade and work on technical issues or add additional skills that I might not have had time for this year."
After the Olympics, Hernandez knows what she wants to do. She goes into acting.
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