The gymnast teamed up with Always and Walmart for #KeepHerPlaying to inspire girls to continue playing sports even while going through puberty.

Por Alma Sacasa
Enero 07, 2021

Olympic gold medal gymnast Laurie Hernandez is using her voice to #KeepHerPlaying. The campaign is a partnership with Always and Walmart to inspire girls to continue playing sports even while going through puberty; the brands have donated $250,000 to the Women's Sports Foundation to help girls stay in sports.

"I directly relate to all of it," Hernandez tells People CHICA. "For a professional gymnast, going through puberty is the time when most of us quit. It can be really tough to get used to a new body that starts to grow in ... we have to relearn ourselves. There's a lot of criticism that comes with that, so [we're encouraging] girls to sustain, to be able to develop confidence, and to be empowered and to learn how to work well with others."

Hernandez is no stranger to the feeling of wanting to quit, and being a part of this partnership was her way to prevent it from happening. "In doing different clinics and whatnot, a really common theme is girls wanting to quit, especially in those peak ages of puberty," she explains. "It's kind of letting them know of course there are those physical benefits of feeling strong and being empowered by [sports], but there are so many more non-athletic benefits, like learning to respect differences between other people when we're on a team."

Having competed on the U.S. women's gymnastics team at the 2016 Summer Olympics, Hernandez had plans to return to the mat for the 2020 Games, which were postponed because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. "At first it was a little bit heartbreaking just because I was so ready to get back out there and to start competing again after having not competed in four years," she shares. " I wanted to go out and have that opportunity to perform, especially with some of my friends, so that delay definitely pushed things back. But at the same time, there are so many silver linings. I have time to work on technique and get some upgrades and learn some new skills. So I'm grateful for the extra time."

While Hernandez prepares for the rescheduled Olympics, she has also been keeping busy by entertaining her fans on TikTok. "When COVID first hit I wasn't training for a couple of weeks, so it felt really difficult to figure out what else to do," she says. "I was trying to train at home and then at some point, all my friends were sending me TikToks. So I got the app and then one thing led to another and now I make them. It's been a connecting point for me and my friends, because if I see something that reminds me of someone it kickstarts a conversation, which is wonderful."

Hernandez has also used her time in quarantine to learn new skills. "Because of the Olympic delay I've gotten to dive into things not gymnastics-related because I've had the time to do so," she shares. "I've been able to take an online extension course at UCLA. I did an acting class, I took a writing class, and I actually got into screenwriting. It's been fun to collaborate with my friends and see what we can create just because it makes us happy."

Being a Latina in the gymnastics world is a source of great pride for Hernandez, who is Puerto Rican, but she's still pushing for even greater representation in the sport. "In the gymnastics world, that representation of Latina gymnasts wasn't really there when I was growing up," she says. "So to be able to sneak a way in there to be that representation, I definitely don't take it lightly. I appreciate the support more than anyone could know, and I'm just hoping that we can able to get even more — and it's not just Latinas, but for people of color, for Black women, for everybody. We need all the representation we can get."