Athletes expected they would make their way to Tokyo last summer to compete in the 2020 Olympic games. Then, Covid changed everything. After years of preparing for the big event, life was suddenly on hold. But, for Olympic gymnast (and gold medalist) Laurie Hernandez, staying in physical shape is only part of the equation. Honoring and preserving mental health is a key component to staying passionate about competing. “It’s something every athlete, especially pro athlete can struggle with,” she tells TZR during a video session facilitated by Nike. For Hernandez, taking a break after the 2016 Olympics and having a chance to explore other interests motivated her right back into the sport — to reconnect with what she calls her “spark.”
Handling the anxiety that comes with being a pro athlete is all part of the job, but that doesn’t always make it easy to do. “Sometimes I feel like either my schedule, or my meet season schedule, or things I have to do within the next week or in the next couple of weeks can feel so overwhelming that my body just shuts down and I don’t want to do anything,” she explains. “Making sure that I’m literally just doing the next thing which is like, ‘ok I have to get up and I have to put my hair up, and then I’m going to go get coffee, and then what’s going to happen after that ... I don’t know, I probably have to eat.’ Just taking things genuinely one step at a time is the best until your brain and body calm down and you can process what’s gonna happen next.” While the opening ceremony may still be a few months away — July 23, to be exact — her words are as important now as ever.
Below, learn more about Hernandez’s journey, prioritizing her own mental health, and staying passionate for what is both her job and what fuels her.