Laurie Hernandez Got the Nation’s Attention and New Jersey’s Respect

By Matt Alcalde

First and foremost, who do I have to talk to in order to get Ryan Lochte to meet with Laurie? If anyone on the Olympic Committee is reading this, please make the girl’s wish come true!

If you live and breathe gymnastics, you’ve most likely heard about Laurie Hernandez. But for everyone else in the US, who may not watch as much gymnastics as we should, Laurie gained our attention after her brilliant floor routine. For those of us lucky enough to live in NJ, we were ahead of the curve, thanks to local media, like NJ.com, giving a shoutout to all the Olympic Athletes from NJ heading to Rio.

“Hey, that’s the girl from Old Bridge!” has pretty much been spoken by every New Jerseyan. Let’s just say NJ is proud, and we have every reason to be. In a climate that tends to stereotype the younger generation as “lazy millennials,” it’s always great to see someone accomplish so much at 16. She’s someone that people, young and old, can look up to as an example of what it takes to win and, more importantly, how to keep your composure when things don’t go your way.

When Laurie wasn’t chosen for a spot on the Olympic All-Around, she could have allowed that setback to eat away at her. Instead, she understood that her life’s work has never been absent of challenges. In 2014, after a bad vault landing, Hernandez dislocated her right knee cap, tearing her patella ligament and bruising her MCL. Surgery was required to fix her knee, which included attaching a cadaver’s ligament onto her own. But she came back, stronger and more competitive than ever. When Laurie found out she didn’t make the All-Around in Rio, she likely realized that nothing in her life had been easy, so why start now.  Throughout the Olympics, she showed grace, rooted for her team and was rewarded with Gold and Silver.

Culturally, New Jersey is a very diverse state. As you can imagine the Latino population is 100% behind Laurie, a descendant of Puerto Rican grandparents. Born in New Brunswick, NJ, Laurie Hernandez is the first US-born Hispanic athlete to make the the US Women’s Gymnastic Olympic team since Tracee Talavera at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. As the Olympics are being held in a Latin American country, Brazil, she’s a guaranteed favorite among all that see her perform.

The future is definitely bright for the 16-year-old. Tokyo 2020 is already on the mind of many, including Laurie Hernandez, who as of the foreseeable future will be part of the US Women’s Gymnastic Olympic team. But that is still four years away, and there will be plenty of other things to keep her focused in the meantime. Now, Laurie Hernandez will be facing an entirely new test: how to stay focused when everybody knows your name. If her Twitter account has any reflection of the newfound fame she will have when she gets back to the States, it’s going to be a tough challenge. New Jersey isn’t worried. With that personality, it’s easy to have faith that Laurie will persevere. 

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