Gymnast Laurie Hernandez Recalls Emotional Abuse Under Coach Haney

Written by on May 1, 2020

For the longest time, Laurie Hernandez, an Olympic champion gymnast, thought she was loopy for pondering that her coach had emotionally abused her.

When that coach screamed at her for the tiniest of errors or lapses in focus, calling her weak, lazy or tousled within the head, with an obscenity for emphasis, Hernandez rationalized that each one high coaches pushed their younger gymnasts that method. When she stood frozen and bawling on the fitness center, her coronary heart racing as she struggled to breathe, scared to do something that might elicit her coach’s wrath, Hernandez — an adolescent on the time — assumed she simply couldn’t deal with the strain.

She thought-about it doable that many coaches publicly berated their gymnasts for gaining weight and growing the curves that include puberty, and that they pushed athletes to coach on dislocated knees and damaged wrists. She had develop into satisfied that was how Olympians had been made.

When she complained about mistreatment, she recalled, her coach would inform her to cease taking issues so personally. After which Hernandez would find yourself apologizing for inflicting bother.

“I assumed I deserved all of it,” Hernandez, 19, mentioned in an interview with The New York Occasions on Thursday, the primary time she has spoken publicly concerning the abuse she says ignited consuming issues and melancholy that she continues to battle.

“The hardest half about it was that there have been no bruises or marks to point out that it was actual,” she mentioned. “It was all simply so twisted that I assumed it couldn’t be actual.”

This week, Hernandez acquired a measure of validation that the psychological anguish she skilled underneath her former coach, Maggie Haney, was, the truth is, actual. U.S.A. Gymnastics, after a weekslong listening to on accusations that Haney had verbally and emotionally abused athletes, suspended her from coaching for eight years.

A panel organized by the gymnastics federation evaluated proof from no less than 5 of Haney’s athletes, together with Hernandez and Riley McCusker, a powerful candidate for the Tokyo Olympics subsequent summer season, and located that Haney had engaged in “extreme aggressive habits” towards gymnasts that included attempting to manage a minor by ridiculing her.

Haney, 42, didn’t reply to 2 requests for remark. Her lawyer, Russell Prince, mentioned that Haney deliberate to attraction the ruling and that the listening to course of was “basically flawed in a large number of the way.”

The suspension was a big step by U.S.A. Gymnastics to alter the game’s overall culture, which many gymnasts criticized within the aftermath of the sexual abuse scandal involving the previous nationwide group physician, Lawrence G. Nassar. He’s now serving what quantities to a lifetime jail sentence for molesting greater than 200 women and girls.

Hernandez didn’t inform her mom particulars about Haney’s conduct till 2016, weeks after she competed within the Rio Olympics, and she or he did so then solely as a result of her mom had overheard her in a FaceTime dialog with a former teammate about Haney’s pulling that gymnast’s hair.

The 2 youngsters had been laughing about it, and Wanda Hernandez, a social employee, stopped them to say: “I’m sorry, however what are you saying? Nobody needs to be touching you or grabbing you.”

After her daughter, then 16, advised her every thing, Wanda Hernandez instantly referred to as Haney to terminate her providers and despatched a grievance to U.S.A. Gymnastics. She mentioned she ultimately needed to demand that Haney avoid Laurie as a result of Haney saved making contact.

From there, Wanda Hernandez saved urgent for extra oversight within the sport. In 2018, she spoke with Morinari Watanabe, the president of the worldwide gymnastics federation, at a meet in Chicago and mentioned the necessity to train gymnasts that they need to really feel secure talking up about abuse.

Nonetheless, it took U.S.A. Gymnastics 4 years to penalize Haney, and the nationwide federation acknowledged in a press release on Friday that the “investigation and backbone course of should be quicker sooner or later.”

The Hernandez household thought-about the end result a transfer ahead for the game.

“I assumed they had been simply going to attempt to sweep it underneath the rug,” Laurie Hernandez mentioned of U.S.A. Gymnastics. “However, wow, they did the proper factor. I can’t consider they really did the proper factor.”

Hernandez, who’s from Previous Bridge Township, N.J., was 5 when she started coaching with MG Elite, Haney’s group in central New Jersey. Hernandez remembers being bubbly and outgoing again then, however by the point she was a young person she discovered herself crying some mornings earlier than getting off the bed as she anticipated seeing Haney on the fitness center.

She mentioned Haney typically screamed at her so loudly that individuals may hear it from the parking zone.

The fitness center was Haney’s dominion. The group handbook says in underlined purple ink: “Dad and mom are NOT allowed to remain and watch observe,” and “There are NO EXCEPTIONS!”

Hernandez remembers comfortable instances with Haney, like group banquets and sleepovers at her home or journeys to get ice cream, however on the fitness center Hernandez invariably felt caught. She wished to go away, she mentioned, however couldn’t converse up as a result of she was only a baby, unable to stroll out or drive dwelling. Feeling helpless, she would usually cry, angering Haney much more.

Early on, Hernandez sought assist from her mom, who contacted the coach. The following day, Haney confirmed up on the fitness center in a rage, telling Laurie Hernandez, “So, your mom referred to as me.” Then, Hernandez mentioned, Haney punished all the group by assigning further conditioning work.

Finally, Hernandez stopped telling her household about something that occurred on the fitness center, fending for herself as an alternative. Puberty was an particularly tough time.

“Maggie was saying to me, ‘You have already got a boxy physique kind, so we’re going to need to keep watch over your weight,’ or shout, ‘You’re so busty!’ for everybody to listen to,” mentioned Hernandez, who began carrying two sports activities bras to flatten out her chest.

Struggling together with her weight and pubescent physique adjustments, Hernandez ended up binge-eating and purging. When she misplaced weight, Haney would reward her and Hernandez felt inspired that the vomiting had labored.

“Any praise was like holy water,” Hernandez mentioned. “It went from someday strolling on eggshells together with her to her saying the subsequent day that ‘we’re on this collectively.’ She actually knew how you can mess together with your head.”

Different teammates, she mentioned, had been equally attempting to manage. One, she mentioned, was so afraid of Haney that she would throw up earlier than each observe.

The coach, she mentioned, would additionally discuss badly about Wanda Hernandez on the fitness center, saying issues like “it is best to belief no one as a result of your mother and father are simply going to kick you to the curb.”

“Maggie would actually trash-talk her, and it damage so much at first,” Hernandez mentioned. “However then I’d say, ‘No, Mother, please don’t complain to Maggie since you’re solely going to make her mad. She’s doing the perfect she will.’”

Hernandez mentioned she realized how you can block out the abuse.

“As quickly as Maggie raised her voice previous a sure level, that house in my mind would pull the parachute and I couldn’t hear her,” she mentioned. “As quickly as observe was over, it was like my mind was a pc and I worn out every thing.”

That’s how Hernandez remembers making it via a observe after she fractured a progress plate in her wrist when she fell from the stability beam. She remembers Haney accusing her of being dramatic when she complained concerning the ache, a lot because the coach had reacted when Hernandez dislocated her knee at a nationwide group coaching camp. The knee damage required surgical procedure.

Hernandez competed on the Rio Olympics with a torn stomach muscle, serving to the USA declare the team gold medal and successful a silver medal on the stability beam.

After the Olympics, Hernandez parlayed her success into stardom exterior the game. She competed on “Dancing With the Stars” and gained, in simply certainly one of her many tv appearances. However regardless of the medals, the sponsorships and the 2 books she wrote, Hernandez regrets coaching with Haney.

“I’m grateful that I received to the Olympics, however at what price?” she mentioned.

Hernandez mentioned that she had struggled with “full-on main melancholy” and that she now receives therapy for it. She coped together with her unhappiness by overeating and nonetheless has “a ginormous worry of doing one thing mistaken, perfectionism to the intense.”

In 2018, Hernandez moved to California to begin anew in her sport after taking time away to get pleasure from her Olympic success and heal emotionally.

Now at Gymnasium-Max Gymnastics in Costa Mesa, Calif., Hernandez trains underneath Jenny Zhang and Howie Liang. It seems like heaven, she mentioned.

It took some time to regulate, however when she makes a mistake now, she doesn’t brace for a coach to yell at her. With the change, she knew that she actually did love gymnastics.

“Whether or not I make it to Tokyo or not, I’m doing one thing I like alone phrases,” Hernandez mentioned, “and other people deal with me the best way I need to be handled, and that makes me comfortable.” She relaxes by singing or taking part in a guitar or ukulele, and she or he leans on her toy golden doodle, Honey, a registered emotional assist canine. Hernandez purchased him as quickly as she came upon she could be testifying in opposition to Haney.

After testifying for 80 minutes at the usA. Gymnastics listening to in February, Hernandez left feeling uneasy, questioning if she had “simply thrown Maggie underneath the bus.” She thought of apologizing and requested herself, but once more, if she had deserved Haney’s brutal therapy.

However a number of different gymnasts had testified concerning the abuse. She wasn’t alone, and that comforted her.

Not less than for one second, Hernandez felt {that a} weight had been lifted.

“It was very nice to lastly inform folks what occurred,” she mentioned. “I did it for little Laurie and all of the little youngsters on the market.”

Danielle Allentuck contributed reporting.

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