Since taking home gold and silver medals from the 2016 Summer Olympics, Laurie Hernandez has been on the go.
There have been countless red carpets, a book and even more awards after she won “Dancing with the Stars.”
It’s rare for the 16-year-old gymnast to even be in her hometown of Old Bridge, New Jersey, for more than a few nights. But she’s taking time to be in New York City this weekend for Sunday’s Puerto Rican Day Parade. She is being honored as an Athlete of the Year, along with tennis player, and fellow Olympian, Monica Puig.
It’s the first time Hernandez, whose both sets of grandparents are from Puerto Rico, will be attending the parade.
amNewYork spoke to her about the parade, turning 17 and this life-changing past year.
I’m sure you get invited to participate in a lot of events. Why was this one you wanted to do?
I think the Puerto Rican Day Parade is a really big deal for Puerto Ricans. Being able to be invited and be in the parade, that’s definitely a really big honor. It’s something that my family has definitely valued, it means a lot to us.
What are you looking forward to seeing at the parade?
I’m definitely excited to see the culture. I feel like we have a really big culture where everyone comes together. I think we’re all a big family. I’m curious to see just who will be there and to see everyone come together like a big family.
Growing up, how did you and your family celebrate your Puerto Rican culture?
Growing up we definitely kept the culture alive in our house, especially with the holidays. My mom makes special dishes, my dad puts music on. It’s like one big party.
Does your family speak Spanish?
I’m still working on my Spanish, but my parents do speak Spanish. I definitely do think the language is part of our culture, which is why I’m working on it. I don’t want to have just English. I’m definitely going to learn Spanish, and hopefully another language, too. I think that will be really cool. It’s a way to connect with other people.
I also realize the parade is around your birthday. You’ll be turning 17 on June 9? How do you plan to celebrate?
I’m not sure yet. Even just a day off will be really nice. It depends on the schedule.
Seventeen is a big year. You can get your license, right?
Yes. I definitely want to learn how to drive.
Growing up in New Jersey, would you come into the city a lot?
We went every so often. We’re pretty close to New York, most people would think we go all the time. But we would go every so often.
What’s your favorite part of the city?
I really love Times Square. I love all the lights and the people. It’s very lively.
This past year must have been so crazy for you. What’s the biggest thing that’s changed?
I think it would just be the public appearances. I can’t really go out in public so often without being recognized. It’s a very sweet thing, it’s nice to see people have watched and seen what I’ve done. And they appreciate it as well. That makes me feel good.
What do people tend to say when they see you?
Usually they’re really surprised. I guess they wouldn’t have expected to see me where they are. Occasionally I’ll go to the mall or movies — I’m not necessarily hiding, but it’s funny to get noticed.
Will you have your medals at the parade, or do you have a special place for them at home?
They’re hidden in a safe somewhere in the house. I have a fear of losing them. We make sure to hide them pretty well.