Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez grew up in Old Bridge and has been traveling the world from an early age in pursuit of gold (which she achieved at the 2016 Rio Olympics). But the 21-year-old hasn’t found anywhere in the world quite like her home state, telling New Jersey Monthly: “Jersey is just Jersey.”
When she finds herself back in Central Jersey, she and her brother, Marcus, typically check out their tried-and-true local spots, including one of their all-favorites: Wawa. “Whenever I come home, especially with my brother, it’s like, ‘When are we doing our Wawa run?'” she says. “That’s forever been our thing. Either that or Jersey diners.”
The former Dancing with the Stars champ, who was famously part of the Final Five at the 2016 Olympics, is now giving back to the Garden State through a new partnership with Teach For America and Dr Teals that provides New Jersey classrooms with moisturizing hand soap. She is also set to appear on October 30 at Newark’s Prudential Center as part of the Gold Over America Tour, a gymnastics-meets-concert event starring champion gymnasts including fellow Olympian Simone Biles.
In addition to athletics, what were you passionate about in school?
Anything to do with creative writing and literature. If I had to read and do book reports, that was one of my favorite things because I got to recap everything that I ended up latching onto in the books.
What was it like turning that passion into a reality when writing your 2017 memoir, “I Got This,” and 2018 kids’ book, “She’s Got This?”
It was mind-blowing…. There was a lot of love that went into both of those books, especially [the] children’s book, having an animated kid with curly hair. That was not something that I saw often growing up, so I hope I can give that to others.
What was it like balancing school and gymnastics?
Both of my parents really value education and wanted to make sure I knew that came before anything else. Even when I was homeschooled, we were always doing our best to stay up to par with people that were my age at the time. It was definitely a lot to learn how to juggle both, but once I did, it had its own rhythm.
Why did you want to give back to NJ schools?
I’ve used Dr Teal’s Epsom Salt throughout my whole journey as an athlete. I’m partnering with Dr Teal’s and Teach For America to provide their moisturizing hand soap, one of the most requested school supplies. With Covid, they’re really going through it and are running out. I couldn’t think of a better way to contribute to my home state.
You’ve traveled all over the world. What is your favorite thing about coming back to Jersey?
You can’t recreate it anywhere. Every time I fly home and pull into Newark, I’m like, “I’m home!” There’s an authenticity and a lot of origin that’s here, and I think growing up, I was able to pick that up. Anytime I’ve traveled elsewhere, you can see different sceneries, but Jersey is just Jersey.