Are you wondering which athlete you should be on the lookout for at the Rio Olympics? Look no further than 16 year-old Latina gymnast Laurie Hernández.
One of only four Latinas gymnasts to represent Team USA at the Olympics since 1936, Hernández is the second of Puerto Rican descent, after 2012 Olympian Kyla Ross. Set to steal the spotlight at the Games, Hernández has been an instant crowd favorite in gymnastics competitions. In addition, the New Jersey native with Puerto Rican grandparents is the youngest team member on the US women’s squad. The team is also made up by Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles and Madison Kocian.
The Ringer recently published an expansive profile of the rising star, who’s so expressive during routines that she’s been dubbed the Human Emoji.
There are five things we learned:
It's Been a Long Road
Hernández has been working towards gymnastics superstardom since she was a child. After beginning with dance lessons, she was looking for a bigger challenge and switched to gymnastics. Homeschooled since the third grade in order to work on her blossoming career, Hernández has undoubtedly missed out on regular teen moments. She is the first to admit however, that the journey has been worth it.
She Sticks By Her People
As she’s risen through the ranks, Hernández is loyal to, and continues to work with her first coach, Maggie Haney. The pair have been working together since Hernández was 5 years old, and have developed her career together. In fact, Haney had never coached an elite gymnast on the US national team program and she didn’t know just how good Hernández was initially. What Haney did have was a long history in the sport, which included an impressive period as a gymnast at North Carolina State University.
She's in Good Company
Hernández has the chance to come in second to phenom and fellow US gymnast Simone Biles at the Rio Olympics. Her US teammate, Biles is such an outstanding athlete that she’s considered to be the best in the world. To place second to Biles would be a great feat for Hernández, who continues to improve in the time leading up to the Games.
Junot Diaz Showed Her Some Jersey Latino Love
The gymnast has some big time fans, both within and outside of the sporting world. Not only are former Polish gymnast Valdi Kolasa and coaching legend Martha Karolyi impressed by Hernández, the writer Junot Diaz is a fan. In an e-mail to The Ringer, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist said: “A world-class Boricua gymnast from Old Bridge? Shoot, when I hear of any Latinos out of Jersey doing anything I’m all over it. As soon as I found out about Laurie Hernández I became a fan and was so happy when she made the team…her floor routine is extraordinary, something out of an ecstatic’s dream.”
Her Future Is in the Balance
In the near future, Hernández must choose between going to pro or honoring her verbal commitment to attend the University of Florida. Athletes are often offered lucrative endorsement deals and while those are major opportunities, they disqualify those athletes from college sports. Only time will tell if companies make Hernández an offer she can’t refuse.