SI Kids spoke with Laurie Hernandez, the 17-year-old gymnast from Old Bridge, New Jersey. At the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Hernandez won a gold medal in the team event and a silver medal on balance beam. After the Olympics, she won Dancing with the Stars, wrote a book and will soon appear on an episode of Nickelodeon’s Crashletes, which premieres on Sunday, Feb.11 at 10 a.m. on TeenNick's NickSports programming block.. Hernandez spoke about her 2020 plans, her acting ambitions, and trying to remain a regular teen.
How old were you when you got into gymnastics?
I started gymnastics at five years old back in 2005. I started competing around age six.
How old were you when people started talking to you about the Olympics?
Well, I started to realize at around nine that I wanted to go, and [at] about that time is when I told my parents and my coaches.
How many hours a day did you practice to be an Olympian?
Before the Olympics, I was practicing around six or seven hours a day, six days a week. But a few years before [that], it wasn’t as strenuous just because, for the Olympics, we wanted to make sure that everything was perfect.
Looking back on Rio, what was the biggest challenge you faced?
The biggest challenge that I faced during Rio was having enough endurance to make it through the Olympics. We were there for about three weeks and we had a gymnastics camp for about 10 days before we left even for Rio. I was away from home for a while. We had a lot of really hard workouts.
Are you still practicing?
Right now, I am taking a little break—well, I guess it’s not little break. I’ve taken about a year and half off since the Olympics. I am going to a regular gym, and I’m running and doing a typical training schedule, but I’ll be back soon.
What are your thoughts about the 2020 Olympics?
I think it’s going to be really exciting. I would definitely love to try out for those. I’ve been to Japan twice both times for gymnastics competitions and so being able to go back a third time would definitely be a big honor for me.
Beyond gymnastics, I’ve heard that you’re interested in acting. Are you excited about being a guest on Crashletes?
I am definitely excited about being a guest star on Crashletes. Being able to watch the show and see how funny it is and watch all the interesting videos—it’s a really big honor to be on the show, especially because it’s athlete related.
How did you get involved in Crashletes and acting?
For Crashletes, I got a call from my agent and she just said, “There’s this show if you’d like to be a part of it,” and of course, I said, “Yes.” Going on the show was a lot of fun, and the people are so sweet. I would absolutely love to act in the future and I think this was a step towards that.
Have you ever had a Crashletes worthy moment?
I definitely have had a Crashletes worthy moment. There have been a lot of times in gymnastics where I have tried to do a skill and I’ve face-planted. It’s really hard to catch those on videos, but the amount of gymnastics [equipment] I’ve slipped on and that I’ve seen someone slip on is definitely Crashlete worthy.
You were pretty amazing on Dancing with the Stars, do you think being an accomplished gymnast helped? What was the best was part of your experience on Dancing with the Stars?
I think being an athlete definitely helped for going on Dancing with the Stars as well as endurance and stamina and being strong enough to be able to dance for a while. But, I don’t think it helped my dance technique at all. They are both two totally separate sports, so it’s really hard to combine the two together. But I had an incredible time on the show, and dancing in heels was much harder than I thought.
What was your favorite dance that you learned?
My favorite dance was the fusion dance. It was the last dance of the season and we got to dance Argentine Tango and Foxtrot. It was definitely bittersweet because it was the last dance of the season, but I felt most comfortable doing that one.
I loved the costume for your last dance; do you have a favorite costume?
My favorite costume was when we got to repeat our lowest score of the past few weeks; we got to redo a Pasodoble and the dress for that was really pretty.
Do you have any funny stories from being on the show?
I have two. One of them would be me learning how to dance. I was kind of punching my partner a lot and trying to get used to the heels I was wearing. I would step on his toes and elbow him. Another funny story would be that during Halloween week, a lot of people were scaring us. So whether I was walking out of a room or trying to get out of a car, someone was always there to scare me. It was really frightening.
What is your dream role as an actress?
Oooh—a dream role for me would definitely be a romantic comedy or an action movie, which are two totally different categories, but I love both.
How do you spend your free time?
I usually spend my free time hanging out with my siblings, whether it’s shopping or watching movies together. I really like to draw and sketch. Sometimes, I’ll Facetime my friends and do that. All my friends live scattered around the United States; so, it’s really hard to see them. Thankfully, I have Facetime. I’m able to talk to them on that.
When you go out, do people always recognize you?
It really depends on what I am wearing. If I am wearing athletic clothes like leggings or a Nike shirt or even a tank top that looks a little like a leotard, usually people start to freak out. If I wear my hair in a curly pony tail, that really gives it away. A lot of times, I am in jeans and a nice top or a dress and my hair is done completely different than it was at the Olympics, [so] usually people don’t recognize me too much.
So you sometimes get to feel like an ordinary teenager?
For the most part. There are times when it gets a little interesting, and once one person starts to recognize me, a lot of people like to look over. It really confirms it when one person starts it. It gets a bit interesting, but at the same time, I am grateful that I have a lot of people who supported me during the Olympics and they are excited about what I did.
What’s your favorite thing about being a Jersey girl?
Ooh —my favorite thing about being a Jersey girl is the culture and food around here. Everybody is very real in Jersey; they don’t usually sugar coat anything. They are very abrupt and honest, which sometimes makes for an interesting conversation. For the most part, everybody is really sweet around here, and the food is awesome, especially the bagels.
Do you have a favorite food?
Healthy or unhealthy?
My favorite healthy food would definitely be salmon with a side of mashed potatoes and steamed carrots. My favorite unhealthy food is cookies, for sure!
Do you plan to go to college? If yes, what are you interested in studying?
I do plan on going to college. Definitely. I’d really look into acting because that is still something I am passionate about and I think taking acting classes would really help me in the future.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers of Sports Illustrated Kids?
A little message for everybody who is able to see this interview would definitely be to follow all the dreams you have, especially if you are passionate about something. Because once you are passionate about something, it’s really hard for anyone to stop you. So, just remember, follow your dreams!
Photographs (from top): Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images; David Ramos/Getty Images; Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images