MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. — Former United States Gymnastics Olympic Medalist Laurie Hernandez took to Plachta Auditorium in Warriner Hall on Sunday to deliver her talk, ‘From Dreamer to Champion’, as a part of the Central Michigan University Speaker Series.
Hernandez teamed with fellow Americans Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Madison Kocian and Aly Raisman to capture the gold medal in the team event at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Hernandez, the first Latina gymnast to represent the United States at the Olympics since 1984, won the silver medal on the balance beam. She retired from competition in 2021.
Now 23 and a student at New York University studying drama and creative writing, Hernandez talked about her experiences as a gymnast, an Olympian, and now as a student, while placing an emphasis on the importance of mental health while navigating life.
The event included a meet-and-greet during which members of the Central Michigan gymnastics team and other attendees met with Hernandez, who autographed copies of her book, I Got This: To Gold and Beyond.
Hernandez took the auditorium stage to tell her story, which drew smiles and laughs from the audience. Her talk was followed by an open question-and-answer session that included CMU gymnastics coach Christine MacDonald and Zyzelewski Family Associate Vice President/Director of Athletics Amy Folan.
“It’s wonderful (for the team) to be able to meet her and to hear relatable experiences, especially from someone that has had such an impact on the sport of gymnastics,” MacDonald said. “Hearing her speak really resonated with our team and being able to have an opportunity to ask her questions really created a personal connection. They’re super excited for this opportunity and were very thankful for their time with her.”
The team got to ask Hernandez relatable questions about competition, especially regarding how to handle nervousness before an event. The former Olympian noted that she ranks her anxiety in the moments leading up to performing, then focuses on lowering the number down to a manageable level in the 15-30 seconds she has to begin.
“Honestly, it was really cool to learn how she was just as nervous and scared (when competing),” said senior Hallie Hornbacher. “It was really interesting and a great way to hear about how she calmed her nerves.
“I know that (me) as a gymnast and our team will always struggle with that so it was really cool to learn how she handles it and we’ll take a lot away from that; I know I will and I know the team will as well.”
Chippewa gymnast Luciana Alvarado-Reid, who competed in the 2020 Games in Tokyo for her native Costa Rica, voiced a similar sentiment to meeting one of her gymnastics idols.
“It is actually so nice to meet someone that has gone though similar experiences and validates them,” Alvarado-Reid said. “We feel like we’re alone sometimes, like, ‘Oh, maybe I’m the only one that feels this way’, but meeting someone that is so successful and so good and what they do having those same feelings and experiences makes you feel better about them too, and that was really cool.
“(I learned that) it’s okay to be nervous and still care about things a lot, like to be able to feel a little anxious and nervous about things that you really want to improve on; it’s okay, and you can get through that.”