Laurie Hernandez is doing big things. The 19-year-old gymnast has been killing it ever since her star-making performance at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. In 2016 she won the Mirror Ball trophy on Dancing with the Stars, then in 2017 she published her memoir: I Got This: To Gold and Beyond, a title inspired by one of her own personal mantras, in 2018 she collaborated with JCPenney’s Obsess to create a body positive clothing line for teens and tween girls of every shape and size, that same year she co-hosted American Ninja Warrior Junior, and this year she’s putting all her focus on preparing for the 2020 summer Olympics. She also recently teamed up with Alcon, the global leader in eye care to launch the “Eye Can, Eye Will” campaign inspired by her use of personal mantras. She got real with us about practicing self-care using mantras, embracing her Latiniad, and the importance of representation.
“I’ve been wearing contacts since I was about 12 or 13-years-old and it’s been a really important part of my gymnastics careers. They feel like nothing and I can see everything,” Hernandez tells HipLatina. “Just being able to be partnered with Alcon Dailies Total 1 I think is something that I can apply to my lifestyle and also speak out to others and encourage them to try and do the same.
Hernandez is a huge fan of mantras and affirmations herself. She has used them to keep her motivated throughout her career and she admits she has them written out on sticky notes, hanging all over her bedroom walls.
“I think my biggest one would definitely have to be, “I Got This,” and that really comes from being really nervous before competing,” she admits. “And when you’re out there on your own, on the podium you’re saying all these things to yourself that you wish others would say to you right before you go out there so it was a lot of opposites of what I was feeling like “I feel confident, I’m prepared for this. I got this. And just a lot of positive affirmations, and “Eye Can, I Will,” is doing that for others.
Self-care and meditating on mantras come at a particularly handy time as Hernandez prepares for the 2020 summer Olympics. She’s currently training on an almost daily basis, getting her body ready for competitions.
“Currently, I’m doing a lot of conditioning especially with having taken about two years off gymnastics after 2016. We’ve had a lot of time to build that strength and build the full body conditioning to come back and of course, we’ll be ready to compete as soon as possible but we’re not going out there until we’re ready,” she says. “So it’s been a lot of maintaining skills, gaining a lot of new skills, and preparing pretty much for next year because that’s really the main goal.”
In terms of what her workout regimen looks like, Hernandez definitely has fun with it. She especially loves mixing it up in terms of the types of exercises she does.
“I train in the afternoons. I train from 2:30 pm to 6:30 pm, five days a week and on the sixth day I get to pretty much pick [what the workout looks like] which is a lot of fun, whether it be kickboxing or yoga and a lot of the time it is kickboxing or yoga that I’ll do in the morning, depending on how I’m feeling,” she says. “I think this time around has been really exciting. I’ve been able to branch out on other sports and other hobbies that really test my physical abilities, while also helping me train for gymnastics.”
But like most athletes, Hernandez does and has experienced her fair share of body image pressure. Whether it’s to maintain a certain weight or the pressures she faced growing up to straighten her naturally curly hair, that she now rocks with so much pride. But working on her own self-self-esteem and embracing everything from her body, to her beauty, and her Latiniad has helped her to seamlessly move with confidence.
Last year, she teamed with JCPenney’s Obsess to create a body positive clothing line for young teens and tween girls, to encourage them to love and embrace their body regardless of size or shape.
“It’s really difficult especially being a teenager, being an athlete, watching your body change consistently,” she admits. “That clothing line is still so important to me and even the messaging it brings is still with me today. I basically try to figure out ways where I’m most confident and find that healthy self-esteem. For me, I know that when I’m most active, it means I’m putting my body to use and I get to test my limits and see how far I can go and that really gives me confidence and makes me feel empowered. For some, it’s running every morning. For some, it’s eating healthy. For some, it’s eating how you feel and that’s so exciting and it’s finding what empowers you. Self-love, it takes a good minute to find but once you got it, it’s irresistible.”
Hernandez admits that it was a struggle growing up and not seeing other gymnasts that looked like her. It took her a few years to embrace her curls, but taping into her pride in being Latina — in being Puerto Rican — really helped her to own her beauty and own her power. She also recognizes the impact she has on other young Latinas who look up to her and feel like she allows them to be seen.
“I’m a true believer that representation does matter. Growing up, I didn’t see too many Latina gymnasts out there — especially girls who had my curly hair. I just remember wanting to straighten it all the time so I could look like everybody else,” she says. “And you know, being 16 and going to the Olympics and being a part of one of the most diverse teams we’ve ever had, we’re now giving that representation to so many other girls and now little girls are telling me, ‘You know, I used to straighten my hair but now I keep it curly because I saw you out there owning it’ or ‘My daughter didn’t think she could do gymnastics but because she saw you out there and saw someone that looked like her she thought it was possible for her too.’ I don’t take that lightly. I take that as a really big responsibility. I’m honored that I get to do that for other people.”
With identity politics being such a big subject these days, especially among minority groups and POC, Hernandez recognizes the importance of embracing all aspects of being Latina — including her Afro-Boricua roots.
“I would definitely say I identify as Afro-Latina especially with these kinky curls,” she says cheerfully and proudly. “It’s definitely something my family and I have learned growing up looking at our family tree and something that I’ve continued to learn about that kind of bleeds through my mom. But having both grandparents [maternal and paternal] being born in Puerto Rico, my parents being born in NYC, and me in New Jersey and being second generation Puerto Rican, it’s something that I own and I used to be afraid of it, but now I realize that it’s become like a superpower. It’s the coolest thing ever.”
In fact, she wants to use her platform to encourage other young Latinas and young girls of color to own who they are and make it part of their story — of their magic.
“Owning who you are and owning how you look is really the most important step. I used to be so afraid that my curls would be too big for everyone around me and my hair would be all types of crazy, but one day I just stepped back and was like you know what? These are my curls. This is my hair. This is who I am and as soon as I started embracing that, I suddenly started getting compliments like, ‘Wow your hair is so pretty’ or “Oh my gosh your curls — I wish I had curls like that.’ So it’s owning it and having that confidence.”
Speaking of curls, Hernandez can probably talk about hair for hours if you allowed her. Like most curly girls, she’s tried it all and has finally figured out the perfect curly cocktail that keeps her rizos looking on point — on and off the podium.
“I use a multitude of different hair products, especially for my curl type. My hair is mostly 3B but the bottom back of my head is 3C, so getting a good cut matters,” she says. “Whoever is cutting my hair has to understand that and that’s really a first step in wearing and being confident in my curls. I use a lot of leave-in conditioners and soft creams and gentle gels — like mixing the two of those has been a really good concoction. You have to because there’s not one product that can do it all. Though, [a few products] that I found that are closest to working on their own are Ouidad products. They have curl hair oils, curl creams, and sprays that work really well.”
When Hernandez isn’t competing, partnering with brands she believes in, or motivating today’s youth, she’s carving out time to support important causes. She’s worked with numerous organizations including UNICEF, which works to help save the lives of children around the world to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, as well as the Alzheimer’s Association, inspired by her abuelita. But these days the urge to help Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria hit and devastated the island has been incredibly close to her heart.
“My mom and I actually got to go visit after Hurricane Maria and promote tourism and promote businesses for the families out there who are still trying to work and help fix their homes and promote Puerto Rico in general and making sure that flame doesn’t die out and we’re still being heard,” she says. “I do still have family out in Puerto Rico and I’ve been able to visit a couple of times just in terms of growing up as a kid and going back after Maria. But I think it’s really important that we’re still saying, ‘Hey don’t forget about us. We’re still struggling.’”