Two of Laurie Hernandez‘s most memorable moments in Rio were mouthing “I got this” before her team final balance beam routine and winking at judges before her floor exercise.
The former became the title of her book, “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond,” due out Tuesday. The latter she also details in the book’s pages.
Hernandez, the first U.S. female Olympian born in the 2000s, is the third member of the Final Five to pen a book.
Hernandez took team gold and balance beam silver in Rio, becoming the youngest individual U.S. Olympic gymnastics medalist since 1992 (Shannon Miller).
She then became the youngest winner of “Dancing with the Stars,” which she also reviews in the book.
Here’s an excerpt from “I Got This,” where Hernandez looks at her Rio Olympic experience:
“The amazing thing about the Olympics is that you feel so many different emotions in the span of a few days, and they are all intense. So it was nice to have at least one totally playful moment. For me that moment happened during my floor routine in the team finals, just before we won. I spontaneously winked at one of the judges and everyone there, and at home, seemed to love that. But honestly I don’t know what came over me. Right before I went on, I was so nervous I looked at the team and said, “Guys, I’m so scared. It’s the last event, what if I mess up?” Any time you are competing as a team you have those worries—I know I had certainly felt the same way at international meets. Thankfully, the girls assured me that wasn’t going to happen. They said, “No, no, no, you’re fine. Don’t worry about it. We’re a few points ahead, so just go out there and enjoy yourself.”
I made my way toward the warm-up area. I was feeling pretty good by then, so I stood to the side and took a deep breath. I wanted to soak in everything around me, because it was definitely a major moment. I scanned the cheering crowd and all I saw was a sea of green. Brazil’s colors are yellow, blue, and green, and the entire arena was decked out in green. The mats were green, the logos were green, everything around me was green, and for a split second, I found it kind of intimidating because in the United States, all our equipment is blue. Even a seemingly small difference like that can be jarring.
Then all of a sudden I heard this beep. It was coming from the little TV screen in the warm-up area that lists your name, your country, and the event you’re about to compete in. My screen read Lauren Hernandez, USA, Floor Exercise. After I heard the beep, the screen switched to GO, which meant I had to go salute the judges and begin.
When I stood up on the floor, I could see one of the out-of-bounds judges in my line of vision. That is the judge who checks to make sure your foot never crosses over the white line. Well, I looked straight at her and suddenly felt this surge of confidence to wink. After I did that, I went on to do an amazing routine. When it was done, I was so proud of myself! Later, a woman came up to me while I was watching Simone and Aly compete in their all-around finals and she said, “Wow, I just want you to know that when you winked at the judge, it really worked.” I didn’t know how to respond, so I just said, “Thank you. That’s very nice of you to say.” That’s when she told me she was the out-of-bounds judge! All I could say was “Oh my goodness.”
When I think back on the Olympics, there were only two times I was anxious for myself or for one of my teammates. In my beam routine, I always find the triple series (or what is called a flight series) a little nerve-racking. That’s when I have to perform three moves in a row backward: I do a back handspring, followed by a layout step-out, followed by another layout step-out. I had a good feeling before I was going to compete that I would hit it, but it’s something I’m always slightly worried about in the back of my mind. The other thing that had me holding my breath was Aly’s first tumble, because she does so much in that pass. I don’t think she’s ever worried about it, because in her head she’s doing everything she needs to do to execute it beautifully. But as you watch, there’s a lot going on, so you fear something might go wrong. She basically does a round off, a backward one-and-a-half twist, and then she steps out of that to connect to another round-off, a back handspring, and then she does this spring called a double Arabian and basically goes up in the air to do a half turn and double front flip connected to a front layout, which is a front flip with a straight leg where her whole body is open. It’s incredible! It’s so insane. It wows me every single time.”
MORE: Hernandez discusses her 2017 plans
It’s a warm Friday morning on the cusp of the Fourth of July weekend and 16-year-old Laurie Hernandez – her face glistening from sweat – stands frozen on the floor of her gymnasium waiting for the music to begin.
She is not alone as younger gymnasts – eager to become the next big thing – are also here for their own classes and sessions. We are in Gymland, a school and training facility where Hernandez, a New Jersey native, trains most mornings. Her mom drops her off at 8.30am and her day won’t finish until 4.30pm. These days, in preparation for the Olympic trials, she splits her time between two gymnasiums as specific locations are needed for different routines. Gymland is the only gym in the area that has the required floor that is comparable to the one used in big competitions. After lunch, she will move to another facility for training on the uneven bars.
“Alright boys and girls, stop what you are doing and take a seat around the mat. You’re in for a treat,” says one of the youth coaches. “You’re about to watch a star do her routine.”
Laurie’s coach, Maggie Haney, presses play and as the music begins not one single person can take their eyes off this tiny, charismatic gymnast. Hernandez’s dancing background – she started taking ballet lessons at the age of three – makes her floor routine an immediate crowd pleaser and, despite the fact that this is only a practice session and there only two dozen people in the room, she treats it as if it was a national championship.
Quite simply, Hernandez was born to perform.
“I want to make sure I always show off my smile and have a positive attitude the whole time, whether it’s during a performance, practice or doing an interview,” says Hernandez. “I never really stop. I would say I’m like this 23/7.”
A note of warning: Don’t let her vivacious personality fool you. Despite the fact that she is often referred to as a human emoji, Hernandez is wise beyond her years and her jovial exterior belies a focused, serious mindset when she competes. Watching her while on the beam is like witnessing a chess grandmaster at work and nothing, not even the cheering from fans, seems to distract her. “When I perform and the crowd is cheering, there’s a ringing noise in my head,” she says. “I’m just zoned in and even though I know there are people watching me all I hear is this ringing inside of me.”
“She is not a normal kid, she’s such a special kid,” says Haney who has been with Hernandez since she was five years-old. “Despite her age, Laurie is so well balanced and her daily attitude and energy level is always so high. That’s why it’s vital that aside from her work-ethic I want to make sure she shows off her personality.”
Hernandez competes in the floor exercise during the US women’s gymnastics championships in June. She placed third overall. Photograph: Jeff Roberson/AP
When you observe them during practice, it is quite evident how both coach and student understand each so other so well: After a routine, Haney – a former gymnast at North Carolina State – will correct her stance or adjust a mistake, and she will only require only a few words to get her point across, sometimes even just a nod. Hernandez already knows what her coach wants, and vice versa. “I know her like the back of my hand,” says Haney. “She always knows what to expect and equally I can always judge how she is feeling mentally and physically and alter or change the workload if I have to.” Hernandez understands the significance of their bond and how it has been the major factor for her development. “I can’t see myself with anybody else. I don’t think I would have come even close to this far with anybody else.”
This weekend, as she approaches the most important meet of her career in San Jose and looks to book a spot in USA’s five-women roster for the Olympics, Hernandez is more focused than ever to prove to the world that she is worthy of a ticket to Rio. If she succeeds, Hernandez, a second-generation Puerto Rican, will be the first US-born Hispanic female gymnast to be part of the US Olympic squad since 1984. “Si Dios lo quiere (If God wishes), to represent the US as the only Latina gymnast would be such an honor,” says Hernandez. “I feel I could be a role model to other Hispanic gymnasts interested in the sport but I also want them to understand the importance of being focused, determined, and not giving up, despite all the struggles.”
For her family, the opportunity is a privilege and an inspiring testament that can awaken the hearts and minds of many young latinas across the United States. Her journey is a concrete message of encouragement stating a simple idea: Success is possible, just never stop working.
“It means a lot to our family,” says her mother, Wanda Hernandez. “As it can open doors to other young Latina girls that would like to try gymnastics.”
Lauren Hernandez was born on 9 June 2000 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Her parents, Anthony and Wanda – a county clerk and social worker – moved to New Jersey from Brooklyn in 1997 in search of a more suburban, peaceful life for their family. Laurie is the youngest of three siblings: Marcus is 20 and Jelysa, 27. When she was five years-old, she became bored with dance classes and asked her mother if she could take gymnastics. Her mother obliged and her teacher ended up being Maggie Haney’s sister Carly. It only took a few days to notice that her new student was special. “Within six weeks of taking the class Laurie was doing a cartwheel and a split,” says Wanda. “Carly told Maggie (who was also running her own gymnasium) about putting her on a beginner’s team with older girls and that’s when Maggie began training her.”
Since that day and as the connection between teacher and student developed, the Hernandez family practically entrusted their daughter’s well being to Haney. “Her family have handed their daughter to me. They tell me, ‘You tell us where and when and we’ll get her there,’ and if they can’t then I get her there myself,” she says with a laugh. “They’re just a positive, happy family who have given me the responsibility of mentoring their youngest daughter.”
In gymnastics, more so than any other sport, the relationship between coach and athlete is extremely complex because it begins at such a young age. It’s difficult enough to understand the ways of the world when you’re a child, imagine adding the pressures and demands of being a professional athlete. The coach, therefore, becomes more than just an educator, he or she is now a mentor, a parent, a friend and most importantly, a guardian, and it’s a relationship that transcends far beyond the gymnasium. “Laurie, quite simply, is like my first born,” says Haney. “She sleeps over at my house, she has dinner with my family, we watch movies in my bed and I tuck her in at night. My own daughter calls Laurie her sister.”
This strong connection has proven to be a recipe for success and this year, as she made her senior debut, Hernandez has been exceeding expectations by finishing third in the P&G Championships in St Louis last month and forcing Marta Karolyi – USA Gym women’s national team coordinator – to carefully assess on who gets to go to Rio. It will not be easy for Hernandez, as USA is deep in talent. Some choices are obvious and locked to go such as the electrifying genius of Simone Biles, who won her fourth consecutive all-around championship in St Louis, or Aly Raisman, the most decorated American gymnast at the 2012 London games. Finally, Gabby Douglas, the crowd-pleaser and two-time Olympic gold medallist.
Theoretically, that means there are two spots left and if Hernandez can keep the momentum she has built this year and focus on consistency, Sunday night could be a great evening for Team Laurie.
First place finisher Simone Biles stands on the podium with second place finisher Aly Raisman and third place finisher Laurie Hernandez last month in St Louis. Photograph: Jeff Roberson/AP
When it comes to fame and success, however, her family’s biggest lesson for their daughter, has always been very simple. “Our goal as parents is to keep her grounded at all times,” says her mother. “Regardless of the outcome in any meet or championship, we are truly proud and amazed of who she is as a person.”
Maggie Haney doesn’t even mention the word Olympics in her presence as her entire philosophy is based on taking it one day at a time. But this doesn’t mean Haney’s grounded approach impedes Laurie from enjoying the grandiosity of the moment, “A few days ago I told her, ‘You need to know there really is no pressure. You are living your fantasy and you are going through everything that you and I have ever worked for. You need to enjoy every minute of it because you deserve it. You deserve all of it. This is your dream.”
With any luck, she won’t wake up just yet.
Laurie Hernandez shines on more than just the balance beam. The 18-year-old Olympic gymnast has trained for years to develop a skill to which she credits a lot of her success: self love.
In an interview with Health magazine, Laurie opened up about how she learned to prioritize her health and wellbeing, how she practices self love, and more. She said she learned the importance of treating herself well from her mom, according Health. Step one, she said, always check in with yourself and know your health comes first. The second step, she said, is self reflection. Laurie told Health that rather than blocking out certain parts of yourself that you don’t like, take the time to explore and figure out what made you that way.
“And sometimes that can be a lot, but by doing that you’re actually helping yourself become a better person,” she said. “You’re helping yourself communicate with others, and you’re helping yourself grow. I think it doesn’t work if you’re hindering your own growth.”
One thing Laurie found that works well for her is self-talk. You may remember the meme of her whispering “I got this” to herself before beginning a routine at the 2016 Olympics. “Basically before I compete I’m like my own hype man,” she said.
Like many others, Laurie said she still feels a lot of pressure to look a certain way. She said at first, natural fluctuations in her weight as she grew older were alarming. “But as I’ve grown up I’ve noticed, you know what, it happens. We grow. It’s fine. Like, to all the tweens out there who are going through puberty, it’s completely normal.”
This isn’t the first time she’s spoken the truth about body image. In fact, she helped launch a collection with Obsess that is size inclusive with the goal of creating clothes that make people of all bodies feel confident and cute.
Related: Laurie Hernandez Talks Body Image and Her Obsess Collection Launch
Let us slide into your DMs. Sign up for the Teen Vogue daily email.
Get the Teen Vogue Take. Sign up for the Teen Vogue weekly email.
- Laurie Hernandez back in training with an eye on 2020
- She’s Got This! Laurie Hernandez Confirms She Is ‘Currently Training’ for the 2020 Olympics
- Laurie Hernandez is Puerto Rican, whether anyone agrees or not
- Who is Laurie Hernandez? 13 things to know about N.J.’s Olympic gymnast
Laurie Hernandez back in training with an eye on 2020
Feb. 16 (UPI) — Gold and silver medal-winning gymnast Laurie Hernandez has confirmed she is training again, hoping to qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
“Now, I get to go out and try new things and just go out there and have a good time,” she said. “The fact that I’m a little older is definitely helpful. I feel like I’ve learned a lot these past couple of years after the Olympics finished, and I’m going into it with a new mindset.”
After taking home medals at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Hernandez went on to compete in — and ultimately win — Season 23 of ABC’s competition show, Dancing with the Stars.
Partnered with professional dancer Val Chmerkovskiy, Hernandez charmed viewers and judges with her boundless energy, strength and grace.
Her experience on DWTS increased her confidence by challenging her to memorize and then perform new routines each week for a live television audience.
“I had to go out there and be this confident little kid who acted like she knew exactly what she was doing. It was kind of like, ‘Fake it ’til you make it.’ If you fake it long enough, your body starts to really react to that,” she said.
The New Jersey native, who is of Puerto Rican descent, is regarded by many as a positive role model for young girls. A commentator for Season 1 of Universal Kids’ American Ninja Warrior Junior obstacle-course program in 2018, Hernandez also wrote the uplifting children’s book, She’s Got This, and was honored by Mattel with a Barbie doll crafted in her likeness.
“This is not something that I would have thought I’d have right now,” she said of her accomplishments.
“Having your own Barbie and having a children’s book out, it’s crazy. I just remember being widely impacted by the things that I had when I was a kid, and now I get to do that for someone else.”
Hernandez said she walked the runway for the American Heart Association’s recent Go Red for Women fashion show because she has loved ones who suffer from heart disease and she wants to encourage women to take care of themselves by eating well-balanced meals, healthful snacks and exercising.
“It’s something that is definitely dear to my heart,” she said, adding she tries to focus on her own health, even when she is traveling and busy juggling various projects.
“Just making sure that I’m eating when I’m hungry,” Hernandez said. “It’s making sure I’m planning my meals. Especially, as an athlete, we have to make sure that we are eating a lot, but also eating the right things.”
View this post on Instagram
GUYS!! I’m so excited to announce the launch of my very own “Shero” @barbie ! Breaking boundaries and reminding all girls that you can be ANYTHING. 💗 Available at @walmart ! #Barbie
She’s Got This! Laurie Hernandez Confirms She Is ‘Currently Training’ for the 2020 Olympics
[email protected] tells @michaelstrahan she is training for the 2020 Olympics! Her new children’s book “She’s Got This” is all about chasing your dreams and never giving up. pic.twitter.com/lm2amVM0h5
— Good Morning America (@GMA) October 11, 2018
Two time Olympic-medalist Laurie Hernandez has confirmed she is “currently training” for the 2020 Olympics.
The Final Five member, 18, confirmed the news on Thursday during an appearance on Good Morning America while promoting her children’s book, She’s Got This. “Cross your fingers for 2020,” said Hernandez.
The book’s title is inspired by her mantra, which first went viral during the 2016 Olympics.
“Whenever I’m competing I’m pretty much terrified,” Hernandez told Michael Strahan on GMA. “It’s making sure that I can calm myself down before I hop onto the equipment. For me, that’s a lot of self-talk and self-preparation, and it’s being my own hype-man. So when I was out there competing, I said, ‘I got this.’ And the camera really got a close-up of it. It captured this moment that I thought was really important.”
Although she took a break from the gymnastics world to win Season 23 of Dancing with the Stars and graduate high school, the 2020 Olympics — which will be held in Tokyo — have long been in Hernandez’s sights. In 2017, she told PEOPLE she had “such a good experience” at the 2016 Olympics, and “would love to experience that again.”
She’s Got This is a children’s book about resilience, a character trait that Hernandez credits to her Mom.
“She taught me to be grateful for every moment,” Laurie tells PEOPLE in 2017. “There was one competition where I fell multiple times, and it was a really big meet. She just said, ‘Look at where you are, let’s celebrate.’ And we got ice cream.”
RELATED: Laurie Hernandez Admits She Missed Out on Childhood for Gymnastics — but Doesn’t Regret Her Choice
Her book isn’t the only example of Hernandez inspiring her young fans. Recently, she released a body-positive clothing line with JCPenney, and received a lookalike Barbie doll from Mattel.
RELATED VIDEO: 10 Things you didn’t know about Laurie Hernandez
“She has my curls! She has my eyes! She has my nose!” Hernandez gushed to PEOPLE in August. “It’s incredible to look at because when I was a little girl, I would play with Barbie dolls that had my hair color and my eye color. But this one really does look like me and I think it’s gonna resemble a lot of little girls out there.”
She continued, “As a little girl I was pretty self conscious about my curls and how crazy and frizzy and knotty they were. But as I got older I realized that my curls are beautiful and I should embrace them. Now that I have this doll that has hair like mine, it’s gonna have curls like many other people out there. I think that representation is a very big deal… It’s an honor.”
She’s Got This is available now.
Laurie Hernandez is Puerto Rican, whether anyone agrees or not
We all came to know Olympic gold medalist Laurie Hernandez and her infectious smile at this year’s Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. She was a member of the “Final Five” for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team.
After her Olympic success — and before she hugged Beyoncé at the MTV Video Music Awards — I met her in person in her hometown in New Jersey and found out that her sunny smile had been hiding hurt from some criticism that went largely unnoticed throughout her media tour.
We all heard about her teammate Gabby Douglas receiving countless criticism as an African-American female gymnast in Rio, whether for not putting her hand over her heart during the national anthem or appearing not to support her teammates enough during their routines. The hashtag #CrabbyGabby even trended on Twitter. Besides being called “un-American,” Douglas was subject to ridicule aimed at her physical appearance, such as her hair.
Hernandez and Douglas wore the same uniform. They shared the same coach. Their experiences diverged, however, in large part because of which cultural minority they hail from. I asked Hernandez if she experienced any backlash as the first U.S.-born Hispanic athlete on the team since 1984.
“Well, there was one where — ’cause I don’t speak Spanish. I mean — my mom didn’t really teach me Spanish when I was younger …
“She wanted to make sure that my English was perfect. Because she had told me once when she was learning language arts she was confusing the Spanish with the English. And she said, ‘I just wanted you to have perfect grammar.’ And — I have perfect grammar.”
I wish I had perfect grammar. Yet here Hernandez was getting flak for that very thing. “You get criticized for not speaking Spanish?” I asked.
“Yeah, I do … It’s kind of, like, ‘fake’ Puerto Rican.”
Fake Puerto Rican. “But you’re Puerto Rican,” I said.
“I’m Puerto Rican.”
This bothered me.
There is an outdated and patronizing notion that there is a “one-size-fits-all” strategy to identifying Hispanics in our country. Sorry to break it to you, but we don’t all speak Spanish and we don’t all eat rice and beans.
The unfortunate reality for Hispanics in the United States is that our identity is constantly being measured by standards that have nothing to do with cultural reality. The scrutiny cuts both ways when it comes to language.
Laurie Hernandez of the United States performs during the Gymnastics Rio Gala on Day 12 of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games on August 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Carlos Gomez, a Dominican baseball player for the Texas Rangers, has the exact opposite experience. He was quoted in a Houston Chronicle column earlier in the season when playing for the Houston Astros and his English was picked apart.
“For the last year and this year, I not really do much for this team. The fans be angry. They be disappointed.”
English is a second language for Gomez. He felt he was misrepresented in this quote and called out the writer on Twitter back in May.
@ChronBrianSmith oh yeah next time you want an interview have Google translate on hand. God bless #GetYourWritingSkillsUp #ZeroNegativity
As Hispanics in the United States, we are given a score on a performance that we were never trained for.
So you’ve got two athletes: Gomez — not speaking English makes him less American; and Hernandez — speaking English makes her less Hispanic.
You can’t win. Either you’ve integrated yourself too much or not enough.
I called my mom to talk this out. She teaches English in the Bronx, New York. Growing up for her was confusing.
“I was too Spanish for American kids and not Spanish enough for the Latino kids.”
I called ESPN reporter Pedro Gomez. He navigates Major League Baseball clubhouses, where 30 percent of the players are Hispanic, and his Cuban background benefits him. He takes the information he gathers and relays it on ESPN to, as of 2013, a 91 percent non-Hispanic audience.
“It’s tough because, unlike other demographics, we’re in a tougher spot because we grew up in this country and yet our last names are like you — Morales or Gomez or whatever. And so, the Americans don’t view us as fully Americans, even though we were born here.”
The dividing factor here is language.
As a kid, my dad was made fun of for not speaking English when he came to New York from Puerto Rico with my grandparents. So for my father, his intention in raising me and my sister was to make sure that wouldn’t happen to us. He spoke English in the household. But just because my father taught me how to catch a baseball with English instructions, does that make me any less of a Hispanic?
Think of Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. He’s one of the most well-known Dominican baseball players in the MLB. His children were born here in the United States and his wife is from Minnesota. So his kids are half-Dominican, half-American, and were raised in the United States. They are going to carry the name Ortiz. Sure, they aren’t raised the same way as their father was, but no one is going to say that Ortiz’s kids are not Hispanic.
What happened to embracing the individual? What happened to the melting pot?
Examine the landscape at large.
These presumptive labels get attached far too often to all of us based on race, gender, sexual orientation and, yes, ethnicity. Democratic presidential nominee Hilary Clinton: Is she man enough for the job? San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick: Is he black enough? Can a white guy listen to hip-hop? Can a gay guy be masculine? Can a Hispanic woman get away with not speaking Spanish?
Fake Puerto Rican.
There’s nothing fake about Hernandez. She’s as real as that gold medal around her neck.
Giving has always been an important value for Wanda Hernandez, whose youngest child, Laurie, is a gold medal Olympic gymnast, Dancing with the Stars Champion, and bestselling author.
When Laurie was only nine, giving meant Wanda offered Laurie the option of being homeschooled so she could focus on both school and gymnastics.
“At that point we knew she possessed a special innate skill. She had competed with the best in the country at USA gymnastics developmental camps, so it was just a matter of how much she wanted to dedicate to the sport.”
For a young girl who had spent years walking on her hands, cartwheeling down hallways, and bending her body into human pretzels, the choice was obvious: she wanted to be homeschooled by her mother, Wanda, who is an educator and social worker.
Laurie even proposed a plan: rather than committing to homeschooling permanently, she would approach every school year as a new contract. When September rolled around, she would have to re-dedicate to being homeschooled until the following June.
Wanda and the rest of the family (including Laurie’s older siblings, Marcus and Jalysa, who were both in public schools) agreed to the plan. But Wanda still had her concerns.
“In school you have dedicated blocks of time for math, writing, and socializing. We wanted to make sure she got a proper education as well as a proper social structure.”
They’d have to find a balance. But balance, it would turn out, would become both Laurie’s and Wanda’s specialities.
Laurie Wanted to Be a Different Kind of Gymnast
Without surprise, Laurie continued renewing her homeschooling “contract” year after year as she excelled in gymnastics. All the while, Wanda continued to support Laurie in finding balance between gymnastics, education, and a social life.
“I would set up social time with her friends and cousins so she didn’t lose touch with them because of homeschooling or gymnastics.”
Around this time, Laurie and a group of other gymnasts met a famous gymnast who was (understandably) hurried as she signed autographs for the fawning group of kids.
The interaction spawned a unique goal in Laurie:
“If God ever gives me the gift of being an Olympian, I want to look kids in the eyes, smile, and take time to learn their names and show them how grateful I am that they came to see me.”
Although she was still years from possibly becoming an Olympian, Laurie was giving everything on the mats to make sure she got to the Rio games in 2016. But her path to the Olympics was about to give her something of its own:
Adversity so strong she didn’t know if she’d be able to overcome it.
Wanda Gave Laurie the Choice of Leaving Gymnastics Altogether
Laurie was observant about safety precautions in gyms, including mat placement and vault safety. In fact, she was at times selected by a coach to give feedback for the other gymnasts, even older kids.
“When she started on the uneven bars, she watched YouTube videos and other high-level gymnasts to learn the techniques. Then, when it came time to practice, she put down extra mats whenever she could. She’s been diligent about safety, especially with a new skill.”
Her eye for detail extended all the way down to her wrist supports. She always used the same kind, Tiger Paws, and she always kept three pairs: one to use in the gym, one as a backup, and one at home, just in case.
In 2014, Laurie was 14 years old and had just joined the national team when she fractured her wrist.
Then she tore her patellar tendon, dislocated her kneecap, and bruised her MCL, all resulting in a full six months out of gymnastics entirely. With Rio fast approaching and a short window for Olympic gymnasts, Laurie had reached a crossroads.
Before Laurie went into knee surgery, Wanda and her husband, Anthony, had to be forthright with their youngest child.
“We said, ‘Laurie, we love you. We are confused about whether to continue with gymnastics because we care about you and want you to be safe and happy. But you are our daughter before anything else. So whatever you want to do we will stand behind you and support you completely.’ ”
Laurie had a successful surgery that day. The next morning she was in the living room, where she’d have to sleep for the foreseeable future because she couldn’t use the stairs. Wanda walked into the room as Laurie was doing a split against the wall, her knee still in a brace. She explained to her mom:
“I really love this sport, and I want to continue with it. I need you to support me.”
The Hernandez family gave her just that, all the way through her recovery, her return to the U.S. Junior team in 2015, and gold medal victories in the National Championships and the Japan Junior International.
Things were looking better for the young gymnast, but the trials were not over.
“At no point did we take for granted that Laurie would get to the Olympics. In gymnastics, one day you’re doing well, the next day you’re banged up, and the next day you’re so worn you don’t know if you’ll return.”
Wanda Continued to Guide Laurie Through Her Struggles
It was March of 2016—just months before the Olympic trials in July—and Laurie didn’t know if she could go on.
She’d earned a spot on the senior USA gymnastics team, and she’d worked so hard to return from her surgery, but she’d experienced struggles along the way, both emotionally and physically.
For a kid whose mother had made a concerted effort to help her stay so balanced, the pressure was getting to Laurie.
The breaking point came as the family ate at a restaurant. Laurie cried so hard that the waitress brought her pile after pile of tissues. The tears continued to flow as she contemplated once again whether to continue in gymnastics.
In a moment of foresight, Wanda’s oldest daughter, Jelysa, grabbed the tear-soaked tissues as they left the table. Jelysa then said to their father, “If Laurie goes to the Olympics, I’m going to put these tissues in a box and give them back to her.”
Once again, Wanda and the Hernandez family had given Laurie full autonomy over her future, and Laurie chose to continue forward with gymnastics.
In July, she placed second in the all-around at the Olympic Trials and was named to the Olympic gymnastics team for Rio. Now was her chance to show herself, her family, and the world what she was capable of.
Wanda and Laurie Give Every Chance They Get
Wanda sat her daughter down before the Olympics and reminded her to stay present, enjoy the moment, and remember to be grateful no matter what happens.
“We wanted her to know that our love for her isn’t based on her being a successful Olympian. We love her unconditionally.”
Wanda and Anthony were emotional to the point of tears watching Laurie in the Rio Olympics, which went without a hitch. Laurie won gold in the Team All Around and silver in the balance beam.
Back home after the Olympics, Laurie’s sister, Jelysa, gave her a goodie bag, and inside was the box of tissues from that night at the restaurant.
“I knew I was right to keep these. You’re just lucky we didn’t have to use them in the stands.”
From there, the now-19-year-old––nicknamed the Human Emoji––was catapulted into a surprising fame that she’s still hesitant to recognize, despite co-hosting American Ninja Warrior Junior, appearing on Sesame Street, and her numerous appearances on late night talk shows.
Through it all, the young Olympian takes a page from the family’s book of values and continues to prioritize giving above all else.
The Hernandez family won on Family Feud and gave the money to St. Jude’s.
Laurie spends time fundraising for different causes through Lucas Sports, including Alzheimer’s St. Jude’s Hospital, and many more.
She created a suicide prevention video for the Traumatic Loss Coalition.
In fact, after the Olympics, Laurie was given a chance to be the kind of Olympian she always promised she would be. She did a book signing for a promoter who told her she only had to sign a certain number of books before she could leave.
Laurie insisted that she wouldn’t stop until she had met everyone who had given their time to see her that day.
She fulfilled her promise of being the gracious, kind, and giving gymnast she wanted to be since childhood, regardless of the struggles she experiences.
Because that’s who Laurie chose to be, and because Wanda allowed her to become who she really is: a driven, caring, and emotionally expressive person first and foremost, and an Olympian second.
Giving for Wanda and the Hernandez family has meant allowing their daughter the autonomy to make her own decisions—whether it’s putting an extra mat down to try a new skill or deciding to continue forward despite past injuries—and the unconditional love and support that made those decisions work.
“We often forget that our gymnasts are people just like anyone else. No matter how driven they are, you have to let them be kids first and foremost. They have ups and downs, even when they’re gold medalists, but if you listen to them, love them unconditionally, and give them the gift of balance, they will make you so proud you won’t believe it.”
Laurie Hernandez is an official spokeswoman for US Glove and has been a dedicated user of our products throughout her career. To stay up-to-date on Laurie’s life follow her on Instagram!
Who is Laurie Hernandez? 13 things to know about N.J.’s Olympic gymnast
Robert Hanashiro | USA Today
Meet gymnastics’ rising star
Laurie Hernandez, a 16-year-old Old Bridge native, will be part of the five-athlete gymnastics team after her stellar performance at the U.S. trials this weekend. Scroll through the gallery to learn more about her, and click on share to send this to other fans.
1. The floor routine is her thing
She electrified the crowd with her performance in the floor routine — the gymnastics discipline where the athletes can truly perform and show their emotion — at the Olympic trials in San Jose, Calif. Watch for yourself.
Kyle Terada | USA Today
2. She is “naturally sassy”
Those are the words of her longtime coach Maggie Haney. “You can see dance choreography from her floor routines when she was 9, 10, 11, all through the years,” she told ESPN when describing her performance. “But with added sass, because she is naturally so sassy.” Do you get extra points for that? You should.
3. She’s making history
She is the first U.S.-born Hispanic athlete to make the U.S. women’s gymnastics Olympic team since Tracee Talavera at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Hernandez’s grandparents are from Puerto Rico.
Don’t Edit Don’t Edit
Kyle Terada | USA Today Sports
4. Ballet bored her
Her parents signed her up for a ballet and dance class when she was 5, but they had to bribe her with sugar cookies just to get her in the door. That’s when gymnastics caught her eye, and she was a natural.
Robert Hanashiro | USA Today Sports
5. Her name is Lauren
But, with several other Laurens at her gymnastics class, she went with Laurie to separate herself. Hey, given her success now, maybe THEY should have used a different name.
David J. Phillip | AP Photo
6. Her nickname is the “Human Emoji”
The nickname, of course, is because of her many facial expressions. Although it sure seems like the smiley emoticon is used the most, doesn’t it?
7. She does a mean bug impression
It’s spot on, right?
Kyle Terada | USA Today Sports
8. She’s a great teammate
Throughout the Olympic trials, it was Hernandez who usually greeted the other Team USA gymnasts as they finished their routines. In a competitive sport where only five of the athletes make the team, that’s a nice show of sportsmanship.
Don’t Edit Don’t Edit
Kyle Terada | USA Today Sports
9. She’s fought through injuries
In 2014, according to NBC Sports, she first fractured her wrist and then dislocated her right kneecap, tearing her patella ligament and bruising her MCL on a bad landing. The knee injuries required surgery and a piece of a cadaver’s knee was attached to her own. Gymnasts are tough.
Robert Hanashiro | USA Today Sports
10. Her parents don’t sweat the details
Her mother, Wanda, doesn’t want to learn her routines. Here’s what she told USA Today to explain why: “I didn’t want to ever say, ‘Did you do X wrong?’ I want to enjoy her for being my daughter. I see the potential and what she has, but I’m a mom and I’m going to see it through a mom’s eyes.”
11. She’s very well spoken
Watch her answer a question about feeling pressure at the Olympic trials. It’s easy to marvel: She just turned 16?
Associated Press file photo
12. 16 is a golden age in gymnastics
Americans Gabby Douglas, Carly Patterson and Mary Lou Retton (shown here) all won Olympic gold medals in the all-around at age 16. Can Hernandez do the same? It won’t be easy: Teammate Simone Biles is considered a heavy favorite. Still, she certainly has risen to the occasion so far.
When you find out you’re going to the olympics>> pic.twitter.com/st3A26seDM
— Laurie Hernandez (@LaurieHernandez) July 11, 2016
13. She is PUMPED
That’s video of her and her teammates celebrating in the locker room after getting the good news that they were Rio bound. The Olympics are a serious business for most athletes, but it’s clear that Hernandez will be packing some joy for the trip.
Don’t Edit Don’t Edit
Laurie Hernandez‘s comeback will become official in two weeks when she participates in a USA Gymnastics national team camp for the first time since she last competed at the Rio Olympics.
Hernandez’s agent, plus USA Gymnastics high-performance team coordinator Tom Forster confirmed this week that Hernandez accepted an invitation to the camp in Sarasota, Fla.
Hernandez, a Rio Olympic team gold medalist and balance beam silver medalist, said in August that she hoped to attend the November camp and return to competition in early 2020. She alluded to the November camp in a tweet last week. She has said she hopes to make the Tokyo Olympic team.
“If she can do what she did then , she would be in the mix,” Forster said.
Forster described the camp as an offseason, working camp. Gymnasts won’t have to demonstrate full routines. Rather, their hardest tumbling pass, a vault and a couple of skill sequences on balance beam and uneven bars.
“Coaches share with us plans on skills and routines for next year, and we help them,” Forster said. “That’s part of the camp, and that’s why Laurie wants to be there. It gets her and her coaches exposed to current rules and trends.”
Forster said he did not request Hernandez to submit training videos to show readiness to be invited to camp. Her showing up to the U.S. Championships in August as a spectator, and conversing with him, and being an Olympic medalist, was enough. Hernandez said then that she hoped to compete in early 2020, but Forster said nothing has been set yet.
She is not a national team member (yet), and Simone Biles and others from last month’s world championships team are excused from this camp.
“She’s very aware of what the skill level is that she’s going to be competing against,” Forster said. “If she says she’s ready to come to camp, I know she knows what she’s up against as far as what skills people are doing.”
Hernandez, a 19-year-old New Jersey native, returned to training about one year ago at a new California gym with new coaches after two years off.
In the last Olympic cycle, Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman took breaks, but they returned earlier than Hernandez, competing again more than a year before the Rio Games. They both made the five-woman team for Rio.
But previous comebacks did not work out. 2008 Olympians Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson, Alicia Sacramone, Chellsie Memmel and Bridget Sloan all attempted to make the 2012 team but, for various reasons, did not make the cut.
Hernandez faces this different situation: Olympic team-event sizes drop from five gymnasts in 2012 and 2016 to four in 2020, putting a greater emphasis on gymnasts who can perform well on all four apparatuses.
The U.S. can also qualify up to two more gymnasts for individual Olympic events only. Jade Carey appears on her way to locking up one of those spots. The other spot, which would be up to a USA Gymnastics committee to dole out, will likely go to a gymnast who is strong on multiple events in case she needs to be called up for the four-woman team event in case of an injury.
VIDEO: Oksana Chusovitina says 8th Olympics will be her final Games
OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!
Laurie Hernandez burst onto the Senior Elite gymnastics scene in 2016, just in time for the Rio Olympic Games. Her goal had always been to make an Olympic Team and her dream has come true!
Laurie started gymnastics at the age of 6 when she asked her mother to enroll her in the sport because she had so much energy and always wanted to experience the feeling of flying.
The turning point in Laurie’s career happened in 2014 when her progress was stalled due to multiple injuries. She returned stronger than ever by becoming the 2015 U.S. Junior National Champion and has been on the rise since then.
Laurie is known for her dazzling floor exercise routine where she has been nicknamed the “human emoji” for her outgoing facial expressions and for her grace and artistry on the balance beam. She has since launched her very own “Lauriemoji” app!
Laurie is a second generation American, as her grandparents are from Puerto Rico, making her the first U.S. born Latina to make the U.S. team since 1984. Laurie credits her hard work, leadership skills, and her never give up attitude to her Mom, who was in the Army Reserves while Laurie was growing up.
Since bringing home the Gold and Silver medals at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Laurie has gone on to win the coveted Mirror ball trophy on “Dancing with the Stars” Season 23 and her first book titled “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond” chronicling her journey thus far was published in January 2017, hitting the New York Times Best Sellers list.
When not in the gym, Laurie enjoys spending time with her family which includes her Mom and Dad, her older brother, and older sister. She is also involved in her church, likes to write poetry, paint, and learn dances in her spare time.