It’s been ten years in the making for team USA’s Laurie Hernandez. To the nation, the 16-year-old was the break out star of the Women’s Gymnastics Olympic Trials. Behind superstar Simone Biles winning her fourth consecutive U.S. all-around title, the rock solid performance of Hernandez was an event standout.
The resilient and effervescent Hernandez made her mark early in her career at the junior level until she was sidelined by an injury. In 2014, she bruised an MCL, dislocated and tore the patella tendon in her right knee in a practice accident on the vault. This week, she’s set to make an indelible mark on the 2016 Rio Olympics. Hernandez cherishes a signed photo of Dominique Dawes, a member of the gold-medal winning “Magnificent Seven” from the ’96 Summer Olympics. Soon enough she could be sporting several pieces of her own hardware.
So here are the top five things you need to now about the teenage gymnastics superstar.
1. 2016 was her first year competing in the senior levels of gymnastics
She dominated the junior competition in 2015, going undefeated in the all-around that year. Laurie upgraded her routines to notch a series of high placements in this year, her first at the senior level of gymnastics. The New Jersey native was nicknamed “Human Emoji” by International Gymnast Magazine. Just watch Laurie for one event and it becomes apparent why. She’s a natural performer with a flare for a variety of facial expressions. It was this combination of performance and superior skills which allowed Laurie to shine early and often on the senior level.
2. Her name is actually Lauren
But, with several other Lauren’s at her gymnastics class, she opted to distinguish herself with the name Laurie. She’s the youngest of three siblings. She has a sister, Jelysa 27, and a brother, Marcus 20. All three siblings are athletic in their own right. Jelsya is a black belt in karate while Marcus ran varsity track. The family is a critical piece of Laurie’s growth as a competitor and maturity as a person.
3. Laurie has been coached by Maggie Haney since she was five.
Maggie Haney, mom to a seven-year-old daughter and three-year-old son, often refers to Laurie Hernandez as her first born. After all, she’s been her coach since before she entered kindergarten. Haney, a former gymnast, competed for the NC State Wolfpack and is credited with the most Perfect Tens in the program’s history. The pairing was part of Laurie’s introduction to dance class. Even as Laurie’s natural ability shone early in class, she had to be bribed by her parents with cookies to continue attending. She began participating in a beginner gymnastics program taught by Haney’s sister, Carli who introduced Haney to the Hernandez family.
4. The 16-year-old is the first American-born Latina to qualify for the U.S. women’s gymnastics Olympic team since 1984 when Tracee Talavera competed in Los Angeles.
After finishing third at the Olympic Trials, the youngest member of a diverse U.S. women’s gymnastics team is set to become one of a handful of Hispanic female gymnasts to compete for the nation in the Olympics. Her parents, Wanda and Anthony, are first generation Americans from Puerto Rico. Her father is a court clerk while her mother is a social worker who served six years in the army Reserve.
5. At the recent national championships she medaled in all four events.
Team USA is comprised of specialists on every event. Led by Biles, and anchored by the veteran leadership of Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, the group is poised to be the most decorated in history. Known for electrifying floor routines, as a 15-year-old at junior level, Laurie earned a gold on uneven bars, silver on floor exercise and bronzes on vault and balance beam. At the recent U.S. team trials a superb performance on the beam earned her a score of 15.700. She will be expected to produce similar results in Rio.