Before Laurie Hernandez even made the gold-medal winning US women’s gymnastics team, she captivated the Internet. At the P&G Gymnastics Championships on June 24, USA Gymnastics’ national team coordinator Márta Károlyi – the woman you have to impress to get on the Olympic team – was visibly impressed with Hernandez, who nailed routine after routine. Laurie’s floor work, where she seamlessly mixes dances and tumbling, undoubtedly charmed Márta. However, the real reason she ended on Team USA is because she’s an all-around reliable gymnast. She just wrapped up her run in Rio on Monday. And she’ll return home as a gold- and silver-medal winning Olympian.
At 16, she’s the youngest member of the Final Five. But before she headed to Rio, she had to an important decision to make: turn pro or turn down money and go to the University of Florida. Pro-athletes can’t take part in college gymnastics. It’s a monumental choice for someone as young as Laurie. But she had to make it. Gymnasts have such short careers (many women peak by age 20). This means that female gymnasts often can’t just go to school and then become pro, because their time will have likely come and gone.
Two days before the Olympics, Laurie announced that she decided to pass on her full ride to UF. She’ll turn pro after Rio, which means she can now support herself through gymnastics. “I am excited about what it means to compete at the highest level of this sport and really want to focus on elite gymnastics for the next four years,” she said, according to NJ.com. “This was not an easy decision to make, but by making the decision now, it allows me to focus entirely on gymnastics and how I can enjoy this sport that I love.”
By choosing to go pro, we may see a lot more of Laurie this year. At least that’s the plan. According to her agent, Sheryl Shade, marketers began calling as soon as Laurie won her first individual medal on Monday. “I probably heard from 10 major, Fortune 100 companies as soon as she did it,” Shade said, according to Quartz. “They were paying attention.” This includes everything from beauty lines, food brands to sportswear companies. In the next few weeks, we’ll begin to see what companies Laurie has partnered with.
According to Shade, the New Jersey native known as the human emoji has remained reserved during her first games. However, you’ll likely see her bubbly personality shine through in different interviews and ads this year. As we prepare to see a lot more Laurie, she’ll start her junior year of school and work to qualify for the world gymnastics championships. And, hopefully, she’ll make her way back to the Olympic team by 2020.