Speaking out for the first time since she testified against her former coach, gymnast Laurie Hernandez finally feels validated.
Hernandez, a member of the gold medal-winning U.S. team in 2016, was one of at least a dozen gymnasts who said they were verbally or emotionally abused by former USA Gymnastics coach Maggie Haney.
Haney was suspended by USA Gymnastics for eight years on Wednesday, having failed “to provide a safe, positive and healthy environment with a culture of trust and empowerment.”
“I thought they were just going to try to sweep it under the rug,” Hernandez said, via The New York Times. “But wow, they did the right thing. I can’t believe they actually did the right thing.”
“I thought I deserved all of it”
Hernandez filed her first abuse complaints against Haney to a USA Gymnastics official in 2016.
Hernandez, now 19, said that Haney’s abuse sparked eating disorders and depression. She said Haney would scream at her for minor mistakes, call her names, berated her for her weight and body and more. Parents have reportedly said that they saw Haney fat-shame girls and kick others out of practice. She even reportedly made injured gymnasts remove boot casts and other medical devices to continue training.
Hernandez said she even started wearing two sports bras to flatten her chest after Haney made a comment about her breasts.
“I thought I deserved all of it,” Hernandez said, via The New York Times.
“The toughest part about it was that there were no bruises or marks to show that it was real. It was all just so twisted that I thought it couldn’t be real.”
Hernandez started training with Haney’s team when she was 5. By the time she was a teenager, Hernandez remembers crying in the mornings before she had even gotten out of bed while thinking about seeing Haney at practice later that day.
It wasn’t all bad, however — something that she said made the situation even more confusing. She recalled fun team banquets, sleepovers and ice cream trips. Practices, though, were awful.
“Any compliment was like holy water,” Hernandez said, via The New York Times. “It went from one day walking on eggshells with her to her saying the next day that ‘we’re in this together.’ She really knew how to mess with your head.”
Sights set on Tokyo
Hernandez helped Team USA win a gold medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and won a silver medal herself on the balance beam. She even competed on “Dancing With the Stars” after the games and wrote two books.
Putting up with Haney’s abuse, however, still wasn’t worth it.
“I’m grateful that I got to the Olympics, but at what cost?” Hernandez said, via The New York Times.
Now, Hernandez has moved to California and is training at a new gym. She is receiving treatment for her “full-on major depression,” too, and is finally happy in the sport.
Her next goal is to make it to the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo — which were rescheduled to next summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Whether I make it to Tokyo or not, I’m doing something I love on my own terms,” Hernandez said, via The New York Times, “and people treat me the way I want to be treated, and that makes me happy.”
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