You’ll almost never see Laurie Hernandez without a smile, but if there’s an emoji that could best capture the Olympic gymnast’s current mood, it might be the sleepy face.
Though she’s still on a now-yearlong break from competition – since winning silver (as an individual) and gold (as a team) in Rio – her schedule this summer has been packed: Among other things, Hernandez recently partnered with the American Egg Board to launch a national search for America’s “most incredible kids,” and she’s making the rounds on the speaking circuit, summing up life lessons she shared in her New York Times bestseller, “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond,” with kids at gymnastics centers and camps, and with adults at book festivals and lifestyle expos.
Hernandez, 17, will be in Charlotte on Saturday to do one of those talks, on Day 2 of the three-day Southern Women’s Show at the Charlotte Convention Center.
“Being able to go on flights and to have long car rides, it’s an incredible experience – I’m blessed to have all of that – but it can definitely get a little bit tiring,” says Hernandez, who is starting her senior year as a home-schooled student in New Jersey this month but isn’t yet sure when she’ll return to serious gymnastics training. “I wouldn’t be surprised if most of my exercise right now was running through airports.”
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In a recent interview, we decided to spare her the predictable topics (success at the Olympics, her win last November on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars”), instead inviting her to take us behind the scenes of five recent photos that piqued our interest on her busy Instagram account, which boasts more than 1.7 million followers.
“I was home while I was doing this. ... I was just on a website – Instagram or Pinterest or something like that – and a picture came up, and I wanted to do something kind of like it but maybe with my own spin. I was listening to music as I was painting, and there are a few songs that I’m just like, ‘Wow, I really like the way I feel when I hear that song,’ so I painted accordingly. Everything has beauty, whether it’s gymnastics or painting or anything like that. You can always find beauty in something. I guess that’s what I was trying to get across. ... I definitely loved doing art class as a kid – that was the one place that I got to really get messy – but I’ve been trying to do artsy stuff my whole life.”
“I don’t remember if it was my brother or my sister, but when we were growing up one of them couldn’t pronounce ‘Grandma’ I guess, so they called her ‘Yeya’ (a term of endearment sometimes used by families of Puerto Rican descent). I eventually jumped on that bandwagon. ... Yesterday (Aug. 8) was her birthday. The picture was taken last year, on her birthday. And even though she was in the hospital, she was still smiling and she was so happy to see everyone. We had those ‘Happy Birthday’ balloons and we had flowers and confetti for her, we had all these cards, and she was just so grateful. That picture always makes me smile. Rather than being sad on her birthday it was kind of like, you know what? Her time here was so precious to all of us. So we really just embraced that.” (Hernandez lost her grandmother, Brunilda Hernandez, to cancer and Alzheimer’s disease in November 2016.)
“At Woodward (a gymnastics summer camp for kids in Pennsylvania, where Hernandez was recently a featured guest), there was a dancer named Jamal (Story), who’s a backup dancer for Cher, and another kid named Nathan, and both of them know how to work the silks. The two of them together were like little acrobats, and they said, ‘OK, do you want to join us for a silk picture?’ And I was like, ‘Holy cow, of course!’ ... That was my first time, but it’s definitely a little hard. That’s why I was at the bottom. ... I could barely hold myself up there.”
The serious face
“I think that is the only picture that exists where I’m not smiling. My mom actually took that picture. We were taking photos in Nike gear and I just tried to do a serious face. After that I ended up bursting out laughing, but we caught that photo and it’s actually one of my favorites. ... (The shoes) are Jordans. My dance partner from ‘Dancing With the Stars’ (Val Chmerkovskiy) got those for me. He’s really into shoes. ... (As for the quote) we’re in 2017, and so many ideas have already been created and so many thoughts and original pieces have already been made. To be able to be creative in 2017 is almost like a rebellion. Being able to just sprout out and be different from everyone else, I think that’s pretty cool.”
The role model
“This was at another gymnastics camp called USTGC (in Massachusetts). I got to do photos with all the gymnasts that were there and one little girl brought in this poster board. She had written like a two-and-a-half-page book report on me, and had put American flag duct tape on there and got so creative with it. She gave it to me, so I have that in my house. I mean, I think she should get an A on it.”
Meet Laurie Hernandez at the Southern Women’s Show
When: 1 p.m. Saturday.
Southern Women’s Show hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.
Where: On the Spectrum Fashion and Entertainment Stage in Hall A of the Charlotte Convention Center, 501 S. College St.
Admission: $12 at the door, $10 online; a three-day pass is $15. $6 for ages 6-12; kids younger than 6 are free. In advance, groups of 10 or more can purchase tickets for $8 each.
The Laurie Hernandez VIP Experience has sold out, but fans can line up to get her autograph after her stage appearance. Copies of her book will be available for purchase on site.