By Luis Vazquez
Laurie Hernandez, Olympic gold medal gymnastic champion and recipient of the Jefferson Award for Outstanding Service by a Young American 25 or under, continues to ride the winds of fame in 2017 with the same eyes of innocence from a perspective that only a 16-year old can understand fully. Except, that she’s a nearly a year older now and maturing quite well into herself.
She still aspires to do things a teenager does such as thinking about college and getting her driver’s license. But Laurie has a grasp of who she is and where she wants to go. And young women take notice.
Laurie will be the first to tell you that she was as surprised as anyone at the mass popularity she attracted on her Olympic run from the numerous tweens and teenagers that model themselves after her. Laura is quite aware that she represents a generation. She takes it seriously.
“I definitely take it as a big responsibility on my shoulders to go out an inspire younger kids and the next generation,” Hernandez said, “I feel like it’s important for us to stay motivated and inspired and to shoot for goals that we think are so big we have to work through grit to get to them. I really wanted to share my story in doing that in hope it inspires others. Being recognized by the Jefferson Awards for working hard and inspiring other people it means a lot.”
To those ends, Laurie is pursuing a plethora of goals, taking full advantage of the privileges of celebrity by opening more doors to newer visions. “I’d love to try acting. Everytime I watch movies I’m like ‘I think I can do that.’ But, at the same time it’s striving for that position and knowing again, it doesn’t get handed to me. I have to work for it and so I’m really looking forward to that.”
Hard work equals goals reached. Eleven years in gymnastics taught Laurie this among many other life lessons which keep her both grounded and instilled thework-ethic that keeps her hungry.
She recalls how she could call on that heart even while practicing injured on many occasions. “I come back and touch the bar or the balance beam again, I say Wow! I have another opportunity to try this again, the right way, also I think the sport of gymnastics has taught me to be grateful for every moment because we don’t have everything forever.”
So, with that in mind, Laurie has a lot to say and she intends to use the microphone in her hand to touch on things she feels strongly about. She is mulling over a college career with theatre/ communications a possible direction. Maybe a return to the mat to try for another Olympics. Either way she commands the stage.
“Being able to work hard and get to the Olympics, now I do have a platform and get to speak out about anything that is on my mind or anything I feel needs to be heard or have an opportunity to try new things like acting,” Hernandez said.
But for now Laurie Hernandez is taking time to breathe and smell the roses. She is enjoying the different projects she gets to participate in as a result whether it’s a book tour for her biography “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond” or for “Dancing With The Stars” which she won with partner Val Chmerkovskiy.
“I’ve had so many cool opportunities because of it and I plan on using them,” Hernandez said, “I’m definitely taking everything day by day because the last year has been a whirlwind. I want to embrace every moment.”
As 2017 chugs on Laurie points out she will be 17 in June and will signify change in itself. Having an unprecedented amount of free time to actually find out more about herself is it’s own reward for all that hard work. “It’s kind of weird to take a few months off. I’m dipping my toes in the water, seeing all the things that I can.”
Has becoming famous begin to dull as time has past and the demands increase on this young athlete? Laurie answers quickly and with clear eyes, “No, I’m still getting used to it.” She places an exclamation with her trademark smile and easy laugh.
The laugh of a 16-year old on top of the world.
Luis Vazquez is a freelance sports writer and contributor to the Bronx Chronicle.