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Honoring Hispanic Heritage Month: A Conversation with Laurie Hernandez

To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month this September, the Women’s Sports Foundation is speaking with champion athletes on their careers, what the month means to them and why it is important to see more Hispanic representation in sport as a whole.

First up is gymnast Laurie Hernandez, who competed for the United States on the 2016 Olympic women’s gymnastics team that captured the attention of the country when it won the all-around title at the 2016 Games in Brazil. Hernandez is currently working toward a second Olympic berth in 2020. WSF caught up with Hernandez as she continues her bid for Tokyo 2020 after a hiatus from the sport.

WSF: How did you initially get involved in gymnastics?

LH: I initially started gymnastics when I was 5. I remember watching two gymnasts on the balance beam, pointing to the screen and saying ‘Mama, I wanna be like them.’ So she put me in!

WSF: What inspires you to keep playing?

LH: Whenever I’m discouraged and feel like quitting, I always go back to what my main goal is, and why I started in the first place! I’m also constantly leaning on my friends and family to support me along the way.

WSF:  We’re excited to watch your bid for another Olympic berth and medal! Talk a little bit about the process of getting back into the gym and how you’re approaching the run-up to Tokyo 2020.

LH: Getting back into gymnastics after two years off was pretty tough, but it’s what I expected! We had to start from the very beginning and work our way up to the harder skills. After taking those two years off, my body changed and I have more muscle than I did before! Because of that, some skills are actually a bit easier than they used to be.

WSF: September is Hispanic Heritage Month – what does the month and all that it celebrates mean to you?

LH: Hispanic Heritage Month is a very important month in my eyes; we get to acknowledge our fellow Latinx family! It’s a wonderful opportunity to take a look at all the cultures and traditions before our time; and still keep an open mind on a better future. Daily life, sport and entertainment are just a few ways to celebrate the culture; but for me, the best way to celebrate is with my family and friends!

WSF: Is there a Latina woman from history (in sports or not!) who you look up to?

LH: I have quite a few role models, but the two that come up for me are Monica Puig and Gina Rodriguez. I remember watching Monica get her gold medal in Rio and feeling so excited that two Puerto Rican women (myself included) have gotten gold at the Olympics.

I find Gina Rodriguez so inspiring as well; you can tell she’s worked hard to get where she is now. I really admire her as an actress too. I’d love to be an actress in the future; and seeing a Latina win a Golden Globe makes me feel like maybe someday I can too!

WSF: Per WSF’s research, Hispanic girls have lower early entry rates into sport and lower overall participation compared to their white peers. What is it going to take to get more Hispanic girls into sport, and why is it important to get them into the game?

LH: The quote, ‘If you don’t see a leader, be one.’ has always resonated with me as I didn’t see many Hispanic gymnasts growing up. I remember trying to identify with anyone and everyone, especially girls with curls because I had them too. My point is that we need more Hispanic representation! I didn’t see the role models I wanted, but through hard work I became one. Encouraging girls to keep pushing forward and to never give up is essential; even if it seems they only want to sit and observe on the side. I assure you, they’re listening and waiting for the encouragement to try something new. Be that person for them!