We met Olympic gold-medal gymnast and “Dancing With the Stars” winner Laurie Hernandez when she was visiting Manhattan recently.
What was the coolest place you’ve ever been in competition?
The coolest place besides Rio — because that was the Olympics — would probably be Italy.
When you were in Brazil, did you see the Christ the Redeemer statue?
I did not see Christ the Redeemer statue just because we were so busy, but I did have teammates who went to go see it and they said it was beautiful, and at the top of the mountain you could see the whole city.
What were the main things you did to help keep you calm before performing?
I had a couple things I did to make sure I stayed calm. One of them was actually smelling peppermint, which sounds really weird. But for some reason it helps me, and also I had a technique where I put my hand on my stomach and just kind of focused on myself breathing, and I noticed it really calmed me down before I competed.
How long can you hold a handstand?
I can hold a handstand for about a minute and 30 seconds without a wall. If it’s with a wall it depends — sometimes my face turns red.
Were you a dancer before you were on “DWTS”?
Before “DWTS” I was not a dancer. Besides the floor routine, that was mostly poses. Probably from 2 to 5 years old, I did ballet, but it was kids ballet. It wasn’t so serious.
What was your favorite dance in “DWTS”?
My favorite dance in “DWTS” was probably a dance I did to Michael Jackson. It was a lot of fun, super energetic and we actually had one of the benches that they used in the “MJ One” musical that they had for Michael Jackson, and they let us borrow it for the dance. That was pretty cool.
What was the first thing you did when you came back from Rio?
The first thing would probably be the fact that I got to go home at least for a day. I went and spent time with my family just because I was gone for so long.
Can you tell us about your new book?
My new book — it’s called “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond,” and it came out in January. Basically it’s kind of just about my gymnastics life and how I dedicated everything to the sport. I set such a big goal for myself at such a young age, but I was able to push through the rough times to make sure I got it done. I kind of hope that will inspire other people to do the same thing.
Who was your role model when you were growing up?
When I was growing up, one of my role models — I’m sure you’ve heard her name, Shawn Johnson — she’s a gymnast who went to the 2008 Olympics. She was actually the reason why I started gymnastics just because I watched how powerful and graceful she was. I saw how cool she looked doing flips, and I said, “I want to do that.” She was one of my main role models.
How did your family support you and help you become one of the greatest gymnasts in the world?
My family supported me by taking me to and from practice, and if I had a rough day they’re always there behind my back supporting me and saying, “Come on, you can do it. It’s just one rough day and you’ll get through this.” And if I ever had injuries they were there for me. Family plays a really big role especially in sports and whatever you’re interested in. Because I had the support of my family, I was able to achieve my goals.
Which is your favorite: the beam, bars or floor?
My favorite is probably — it’s a tie between the balance beam and floor exercise.
Have you ever thought about giving up gymnastics?
There have been a couple times when I maybe questioned if I still wanted to do the sport or not just because times got pretty hard, but that’s where the support of my friends and family came in, and they’d tell me, “Don’t stop. You’re a great gymnast. We could see how much you love this sport, like it’s just one rough day so keep going.” And I did. I kept going.
What is your favorite move that you perform?
My favorite move would probably be double on the floor. That’s the two back flips. That’s one of my favorites because it does really feel like you’re flying.
Where do you keep all your gold medals?
In a secret place. They’re in a safe somewhere stashed secretly.
Do you have any special prayers or thoughts that you use to relax and focus you before you begin a routine?
Before I competed in beam finals I actually made a prayer like I’m just glorifying the gifts that God has given me and I pray that I stay safe and I pray that I’m able to do routines that I trained my whole life to do. And I was able to do a great routine and get a silver medal for the Olympics. That was incredible.
What’s harder: “DWTS” or the Olympics?
It’s hard to compare the two. I think the Olympics was harder because it was a lot more stressful in a sense: I had dedicated everything to this one moment and so that was pretty hard. On “DWTS” it’s a different kind of hard. It’s using muscles and moves that I’ve never had to use before, and having to dance in heels is really weird because in gymnastics we’re barefoot. We never get to wear heels. I’m constantly tripping. Then I have to dance with a partner, and I’m not used to that. I kept stepping on him, and I actually head-butted him once.