We met Olympic gold medal gymnast, “Dancing With the Stars” champion and author Laurie Hernandez when she was visiting Manhattan recently.
How did you react when you got your gold medal for the team routine?
I thought I was going to cry, honestly. But I didn’t. I think we were so happy that we were just overthrown with all this emotion, and I was grateful to be out there with all these girls that I get to call my sisters.
What achievements are you most proud of?
I think the achievement that I’m most proud of would be using my platform to speak out on all the things that I feel need to be heard and being able to be a part of St. Jude [Children’s Research Hospital] today and help all the kids out there — that’s really important to me and my family. So that’s what I’m most proud of.
Do you keep in touch with the Final Five?
I do. I actually Snapchatted some of the girls this morning.
Do people recognize you when they see you on the street?
Sometimes. Unless I’m wearing a baseball cap, but I don’t wear one too much.
Have you ever hurt yourself and then you’re just not able to practice?
Yes, especially in gymnastics, there are times when I’m doing a skill and I land funny and I have to take some time off. But I think the best part about that is just, it’s your body telling you that you really need a little bit of a break and you end up coming back stronger than ever, because you’ve given yourself some time.
What moment in your life made you want to join the U.S. Gymnastics Team?
When I was 9 I was doing a program in gymnastics that I ended up coming out in first, and I didn’t know I could do that. And at that point I was like, OK, where can I go from here? And I thought about doing the Olympics.
What one piece of advice would you give to young athletes?
Make sure that you’re doing what you love, because even on the hard days you can look back and think about all the happy days that you have, and you can think about all the goals that you have in the future, and that should be enough to motivate you to keep going.
What do you like to do when you have free time?
I love to spend time with my family. I love to watch movies. I love to do my nails. I like to draw. I like to listen to music. I just got a ukulele. I like to play it.
Did gymnastics have an effect on “Dancing with the Stars”?
I think the biggest effect that gymnastics had on “Dancing with the Stars” would be that it gave me really good endurance to keep doing the whole routine without falling too short of breath. But technique-wise, it was nothing — like you can’t really compare the two. I had so much fun for both.
We heard that one of your nicknames is “Human Emoji.” How did you get that nickname?
As an athlete and especially gymnasts, we’re known for having stone faces. We just have this tunnel vision and we’re very focused, and you can’t see too much emotion. But when I would compete, I got so excited that I would smile and giggle while I was competing. And we actually had facial expressions choreographed into my floor routine, so they called me the Human Emoji.
Are there any other sports you like to play besides gymnastics?
I love to do football with my family, usually on Thanksgiving. Every so often I’ll play basketball with my brother, although we haven’t done that in a while. I like running, sometimes.
What did you want to do before you became a gymnast?
Before I became a gymnast I did ballet for about three years. I don’t remember too much of it because I was really little. But I do remember that they told me that if I would listen in a class, they would give me sugar cookies, and I think that’s kind of why I stayed. Not a good reason. You’ve got to love it.
Are you planning for training for the 2020 Olympics?
Yes. I mean, I’ve taken a little break so far from gymnastics, still resting my mind and my body. But next year I do plan on coming back slowly, and 2020 would be awesome.
Would you rather continue being in the Olympics or “Dancing with the Stars”?
The rule for “Dancing with the Stars,” I’m not really allowed to go back unless I’m doing just like a small cameo or feature, or if I’m joining someone’s dance routine. So I think I love dancing, but that’s also why I like floor and gymnastics, because I get to dance and I get to tumble.
Do you have any lucky charms or superstitions?
I don’t like to call them superstitions because I don’t use them for a competition. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to have a bad meet. But I do like to carry around with peppermint oil, so I’ll put it on my wrists before I compete, and I just like the smell of it. It makes me — I don’t know, it clears my head a little bit before I go.
What are some of your greatest pet peeves?
Oh, that’s a good one. I don’t like when people chew too loudly. It’s really weird. I don’t like sarcasm. I like sarcasm when it’s funny, but when you’re in a serious conversation and someone is sarcastic, I don’t like that.
What was the hardest event you trained for?
The hardest event that I trained for would probably be — bars was difficult, even though I didn’t complete it in the Olympics. That was definitely my most challenging event. Growing up it was my least favorite event and I was very nervous doing it, but as I got older, it became a lot easier for me, and I started to love it.
What happens when you make a mistake? Do you get sad?
I mean, you definitely get frustrated when you make a mistake, but at the same time, if you’re in a competition and you make a mistake, the best thing that you could possibly do is to pretend like it never happened. Keep moving on with the competition as if it’s the best competition ever, and then afterwards you can look back and say, OK, what can I do differently next time?
Jennifer Speicher’s fourth-grade class, PS 79Q, Whitestone