Math can be a nightmare-inducing subject. I still get chills when I think about the unrelenting multiplication sheets I preferred to stuff away in my backpack as a third-grader. But Diego Hinojosa thinks math is for everyone. “Some people think that mathematics is for geniuses, but we are normal children,” he told El País. “Anyone can develop that talent.” Though I beg to differ, he’s so adept at foundations and formulas that he’s won seven math olympic medals in his 15 years.
Hinojosa, who goes to a public school in Mexico, and his team have been racking up awards – most recently winning the Central American and Caribbean math championship. At a time when education reform is a battleground issue in Oaxaca and around the country and half of Latin American students’ struggle with math, Hinojosa and his teammates are defying these narratives. As he gears up for the Thailand International Mathematics Competition (IMC) – a five-day competition in August – he dedicates 15 hours a week to studying math, which is easier to do when, like Diego, math is one of your passions. Or when you’ve been winning math competition since age 12.
Training is essential, but he knows he couldn’t have gotten where he is without the help of his teachers. “When I was little I did very well in math, I knew my timetables. [I could work through math problems] quickly,” he said. “I thought that was normal, but it was my elementary school teacher who encouraged me to compete and develop my ability.” After all his achievements, he’s become something of an internet phenomenon. Mexico Twitter, which likes to royalize its trending topics, has dubbed him #LordMatemáticas. Olga Medrano, who attended his same school, is his female counterpart. She earned her #LadyMatemáticas status after becoming the first Mexican to win the European Girls’ Mathematical Olympiad.
The way Diego describes it, math competitions actually seem pretty chill. Unlike math tests in school, things aren’t so “mechanic,” and the competitions aren’t as concerned about the right answer. It’s more about the creativity used to get there.