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, 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. 


Don’t Question Her Patriotism

(Photo Above: Gabby Douglas. Source: The Huffington Post – Zondervan)

I’ve attended enough baseball games to know that as soon as the National Anthem comes on, you take off your cap, stand at attention and place your hand over your heart. It’s a sign of respect for the game and for the USA.

What I love most about this tradition is how it has the capability to unite 45,000 strangers to salute their county. And as the singer reaches the, “Home of the Brave, And the Land of the Free,” the hair on my neck stands on end as a wave of cheers and applauds begins to swell.

There’s always a few that decide its more important to eat their hot dog or down their beer to take in the moment, and although I might not like it, I’m proud that I live in country that doesn’t persecute those that choose to express their patriotism however they choose. Or do we?

In the last week, US Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas has received a barrage of abusive online comments, attacking her “lack of patriotism” because she did not place her hand over her heart during the National Anthem. Bullying comments, like trending Tweets calling her “Crabby Gabby,” isn’t new to the 20-year-old. Far worse has been said about the gymnast phenom, much of which has had a racial overtone. I won’t repeat it here, because these hateful comments don’t deserve an additional platform, but you can look it up for yourself on a recent Guardian Article.

Gabby Douglas_Vanity Fair

Gabby Douglas (Source: Vanity Fair)

Let’s just be clear, Gabby Douglas deserves better treatment. She’s worked her butt off and sacrificed a good chunk of her childhood, with absolutely no regrets, to become a powerhouse in World’s gymnastics. And even though she might choose to wear a pink leotard, which might upset some Fox News Pundits for not being Red, White and Blue, she’s doesn’t need to apologize for lacking pride in her country, for not smiling enough or for any other silly criticism from people who have nothing better to do than tear others down. Gestures do matter. But so does the fact that the Douglas family has deep roots serving in the US Military and that Gabby does the seemingly impossible by competing with the World’s best and bringing home Gold. To have the nerve to question the patriotism of such an immense talent as Gabby Douglas is idiotic.

As Douglas’ mother, Natalie Hawkins, was quoted by The Guardian, “I don’t think respecting your country or your flag boils down to whether you put your hand over your heart or not. It’s in your actions towards your country – how well are you abiding by its laws, how well are you helping your fellow citizens?”

So I ask all the critics out there: How are you really helping? By tearing down one of the people that creating the national pride you’re professing to respect?

You made us proud, Gabby!