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Olympian Laurie Hernandez, Her Dad, and Diabetes – Diabetes Daily

Laurie Hernandez is an elite athlete. To keep up her Olympics-quality form, she needs to take her lifestyle decisions, like diet and exercise, very seriously.

Anthony Hernandez is similarly mindful. He’s not an elite athlete – he’s Laurie’s dad. He takes care of his health because he has type 2 diabetes.

“I’ve always watched him take care of himself. It was just something he did because he had to do it. For me and gymnastics, going to physical therapy, and doing preventative bodywork, and eating the right things … all of those are key things that I’ve watched him do.”

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Laurie, a gymnast, won both individual silver and team gold in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. 

I spoke to Laurie only days after she had sustained an unfortunate injury that put her Olympic return in doubt. A hyperextended knee forced Laurie to withdraw from the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, a critical competition that helps determine which athletes can make the team for the upcoming Tokyo games. In the days after our talk, Laurie decided not to petition for a spot on the Tokyo team – potentially ending her career as a competitive gymnast.

We talked about gymnastics and the Olympics, but we mostly talked about her dad. Anthony’s had diabetes for as long as Laurie can remember, but he never made a big deal about it.

“He wanted things to appear as normal as possible, so it wasn’t a big topic. It was just something that he did. He would prick his finger, and he would take his medication.”

Laurie’s grandmother also had diabetes – little Laurie would watch her take insulin shots. As her grandmother got older and more unsteady, Laurie would help her with her injections. Everyone helped out like that.

“I didn’t see it like an odd thing. ‘Oh, here are two people taking care of themselves. That’s my family!’”

I was struck by the contrast, but similarity, between Laurie and her dad. They’re in very different stages of life, but each is similarly motivated to take their health seriously, and each inspires good decisions in the other. Growing up in a household where diabetes was an everyday fact of life gave Laurie early models of self-care.

“I had that representation of somebody taking care of themselves.

“This gymnastics training is crazy, but let me show you how I learned all the in-betweens, how I learned to take care of myself. A big part of that comes from my dad. Watching him do that and set that example for me and my siblings.”

Anthony still manages his diabetes in a subtle way, and isn’t one to draw much attention to himself. But over the years, he’s gotten more in tune with his body and addressed his condition in a little bit more depth.

He’s also been more open about how his children helped inspire him to improve his control. He didn’t want his disease to force him to miss out on their lives, especially Laurie’s superlative athletic career.

“He would say, ‘I wanna be there for those things.’”

I spoke to Laurie because she’s the newest spokesperson for Trulicity, a GLP-1 agonist approved for type 2 diabetes. Trulicity is a once-weekly injection that studies have shown can confer both improved glucose control and weight loss. It also may help reduce the likelihood of major cardiovascular events.

Laurie told me that representing a diabetes medication “resonated” with her.

“I get to talk about my dad and show all the hard work that he’s done in quiet. It’s life, it’s something that he takes care of every single day. He doesn’t really have a choice! So to give him grace and kudos for that, I do think it’s important.”

If anyone’s curious why Laurie, who doesn’t have diabetes, decided to represent Trulicity, she has a simple answer: “It’s my dad. That’s my family, that’s my core, he’s a big part of who I am.

“I’m so proud of him. He talks about how proud he is of me, all the time, but now I have an opportunity to tell everyone how proud I am of him.”

Diabetes care can be a team effort for the Hernandezes.

“My mom would always carry snacks with her, you know, just in case he ever got low. It didn’t click for me, up until the last few years, that she was doing that to take care of him. I thought, you know, that’s just mom being mom, but it was always for him. It was a way to keep an eye out.”

Even when she’s on the other coast, she makes an effort to keep up with her dad as much as possible:

“I make sure to check in and see that he’s doing ok. Just give him an encouraging word or call. Me and my siblings, we have a big family group chat, and we’ll let him know that we’re so proud of him. If he does have an off day, not reprimanding him for it, but letting him know, hey, everybody’s got an off day. Lots of love and support.”

In a remarkable coincidence, Laurie’s roommate Charlotte Drury, also an Olympic hopeful, was recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Performing at an elite athletic level while dealing with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes can’t be easy, but Laurie reports that Charlotte “is kicking major butt.” She certainly lucked out in having Laurie as a roommate. Laurie has accompanied her to the doctor’s office, and is happy to run and grab a juice box when Charlotte’s blood sugar goes low.

It’s been a strange year for Laurie, as it has for everyone, but the pandemic did bring some benefits. Laurie usually trains in California, far away from her hometown in New Jersey, but after her gym closed down she switched for about six months.

“I got to spend a lot of time with my family, got to watch my nephew grow, which was awesome. There was a lot of family time that I should not have gotten but did, so that was a huge silver lining.”

What advice does the high achiever and devoted daughter have for other people with diabetes?

“The biggest thing is just to do your best, to not let it stop you from doing things you really want to do. From watching my dad be a good dad and do his best to show up for all my different meets, diabetes did not get in the way of that. I’m sure it was a challenge for him, but he constantly showed up.”

“I’m really proud of all of you. You’re strong because you have to be, but you are strong.”

 



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