“My heritage means the world to me,” says 17-year-old Laurie Hernandez, who is of Puerto Rican descent. “My culture has always been reinforced by my parents, especially over the holidays. It’s what makes me, me!”
Hernandez won gold in the gymnastics’ Team All Around event and silver on the balance beam, both at the 2016 Rio Olympics. “Before the Olympics, I didn’t realize how much of an impact I had on my community and everyone around me,” she says. “I was just doing the sport I loved!”
The gymnast, nicknamed the “human emoji” because she’s so expressive, plans to have lots of family time during Hispanic Heritage Month, even though she travels a lot. “Whether it’s cooking with my mom or singing with my dad, I’m a happy kid,” says Hernandez.
Growing up in New Jersey, Hernandez, the youngest of three, didn’t see many Latina athletes but that’s changing. In Rio, she noticed Puerto Rican tennis player, Monica Puig and remembers feeling proud the tennis star won gold.
Leading up to the Olympics, Hernandez felt the buzz in the Hispanic community. Everyone was excited for the Latina athlete. Now she wants to encourage others to go for the gold too.
“I’m really hoping that through helping others and staying positive, I can inspire other gymnasts and people to shoot for their goals and make them a reality,” Hernandez says.
“I got this”
Hernandez, who won Season 23 of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” is also an author. Her autobiography, “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond” is motivating for kids and adults. The book’s title came from her words of self-motivation during her Olympic balance beam routine, “You got this.”
Hernandez recalls the time and effort she put into her sport and how she had to trust herself even though she was afraid of injuries. Her advice? Be patient, have courage and stay excited. “There are a lot of ups and downs in the book,” she says. “But it makes the happy times that much more exciting.”
Kristen Castillo, [email protected]