Hernandez shares experience from the olympics

Photo courtesy of Ross Mortensen

Laurie Hernandez signing copies of her book, I Got This, after School Meeting.


To the surprise of many students in the Choate Community, School Meeting on Halloween didn’t follow its usual format. During the meeting, Choate welcomed Laurie Hernandez, a Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award Winner, winner of “Dancing with the Stars” Season 23, and New York Times best-selling author. Easily her greatest accomplishment, though, is her success at the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.  Hernandez was a part of the U.S. Gymnastics Team, nicknamed the “Final Five” after the dominance over the competition.  Hernandez helped the team win a gold medal in the team competition and individually won a silver medal on the balance beam.

Maybe the most amazing thing about Hernandez, though, is that despite her immense success, she is only 17 years old, a senior in high school.  Hernandez does not even have her driver’s license yet. Hernandez deals with school work and college applications just like any high school student, and that relatability was one thing that was immediately noticed by everyone in attendance.

At School Meeting, Hernandez talked about her experience at the Olympics and her path to the Games.  “It was definitely scary,” she said. “I was very nervous when it first started, but the girls were really supportive.  Hearing their support really comforted me and  helped me feel more at home competing and being in front of such a large audience, which I didn’t realize was as big as it was.”

Hernandez also remembered her experience on the podium with her team after winning gold.  “At first I thought I was going to cry.  We were so happy, and we took as much in as possible.  That’s something my mom always told me.  She would say, ‘Take it in because you never know when this is going to happen again.’  I remember standing on the podium and being with my girls.  I focused on who was standing next to me, the anthem being played, and our flag.  That will always bring back memories of the Olympics.”

It hasn’t always been easy for Hernandez, who fought through major injuries in 2014, first fracturing her wrist, and then tearing her patellar tendon and dislocating her kneecap.  She very nearly quit gymnastics altogether after the injuries, but she decided to come back and keep pursuing her dream.

Hernandez was able to get through this rough patch in large part because of the support of her family, who have been there every step of the way.  More recently, they have been there to help keep Hernandez’s feet on the ground despite her success.  Hernandez said of the help of her family, “I think getting to the Olympics was not just hard for me.  It was something that I had always wanted, so it was very stressful knowing I was so close, but it was definitely hard for my family as well.  It took a village to get me where I am.  For my mom, it was never just taking me to practice.  She always had to figure out how to get me there, because she was working two jobs to pay for my tuition and all these different things.  My whole family was there for me, so having that whole village that helped me, but now having this aftermath of travel and craziness and I guess blowing up a little bit, has really kept me grounded. ”

Hernandez, despite her travel and fame, still is working through high school and preparing to graduate in this spring.  It was actually the opportunity to see a real high school after being homeschooled for her high school career that drew Hernandez to Choate.

The visit was organized by Shade Mazer ’19, who has been a very close friend of Hernandez for the past year. Additionally, Shade’s mother, Ms. Sheryl Shade, is Hernandez’s agent. Mazer said of how the visit came about, “She was telling me how different her entire schooling experience was, and how she wonders what it would be like to attend actual classes with actual teachers. After seeing her study on the road during the summer, seeing her Skype with her teacher for four hours, I thought, ‘Wow! I struggle through seventy-minute classes, but you have to take a test over Skype.’  I just wanted to show her an experience that wasn’t completely reliant on technology.” Hernandez loved the experience, joking that she should do a postgraduate year at Choate.

Cici Curran ’20 commented, “It was nice hearing from a teenager for once.  She was really down to earth; I could relate to her because she was almost my age.”  Curran said she most appreciated Hernandez’s “a-dork-ableness.”

Carolina Vargas ’21 really enjoyed the presentation.  She said of Hernandez, “I was surprised by how normal and young she was.  You get this image of someone when you see them on TV that they’re elevated somehow, and for her to be so humble despite having competed at the highest level, that was amazing.”   Eamonn Welliver ’18, who happened to get to eat dinner with Hernandez at the Sally Hart Lodge, commented, “People have a preconceived notion of famous people; they are going to be on a completely different level, but you talk to Laurie and she starts making jokes and talking about the same things that we all talk about.  She just happens to be a teenager who is a gold medalist.”

Hernandez, who is only a year into her position as a public figure and role model, has tried to use her status to promote positivity, something not surprising from a person who was nicknamed the “human emoji” for her wide range of emotions at the Olympics.  As she prepares for college and maybe another Olympic Games in 2020, Hernandez will continue to inspire people and make make good on every opportunity she gets.

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