Unless you've moved to Antarctica where they don't have teams, you know that the Olympic Games are happening this week in Rio. Already we've seen records be broken, dreams be achieved and legends be born. The USA has a lot of great athletes, but we seem to specialize in sports like swimming, women's beach volleyball, and, especially, women's gymnastics. And while Simone Biles is arguably the greatest gymnast of all time, Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas are bringing killing Rio just as hard as they did London and Madison Kocian is doing an awesome job on the uneven bars, the unsung hero of the Final Five is Laurie Hernandez. If you don't understand how important Laurie is, or how amazing she is at everything she does, then you are in the perfect place. Here are five reasons why Laurie Hernandez is the hero that America deserves, and the one it needs right now.
1. Laurie is the first Puerto Rican-American to ever be on the United States Gymnastics Team.
While Puerto Rico is a United States territory, I can tell you that being a Puerto Rican is not just being American. We Puerto Ricans are proud of our heritage, just like Laurie. She told Fox News Latino, "I am so proud of my heritage, I think it’s amazing that I can just go out there and be myself and the fact that I’m carrying Puerto Rico on my back a little bit, I think that’s an honor.” Puerto Rico sends their own team to the Olympics, but as Laurie is doing all Puerto Rican Americans proud. And not just Puerto Rican Americans, she's also the first Latin-heritage gymnast to be on the team since 2004, and the first American-born Latina to compete since 1984. This is a huge deal for the Latina-American community, and Laurie is doing a fantastic job representing us.
2. Laurie is from New Jersey, which is the greatest state in America.
As a second-generation American, Laurie was born and raised in Old Bridge, New Jersey. She's gone to Jersey schools her whole life (her brother Marcus currently goes to one of New Jersey's best schools, Rutgers University), spent summers on the Jersey shore, and taken the midnight runs to Wawa that every Jersey girl swears by. She likes Wawa just a much as all of us, if not more. In an Instagram post from the night Laurie won the Women's Team All Around Final, her older brother wrote a long post about how proud he was of her. But the most important line was at the very end, when he said "As soon as you land we're going straight to Wawa". I'm going to bet that flight in to Newark International Airport is going to be the most anticipatory flight in since I flew home from Ireland this past spring.
3. Laurie is a Christian.
Honestly, there are a thousand and five Christian athletes and singers who dedicate their performances to God. But I'm throwing this in here because Laurie actually means it. Her Instagram is full of Bible quotes, she thanks God in every interview she gives, and she makes sure that she never compromises herself for her faith. We are in a huge time of turmoil in our country right now, so a minority woman being proud of her faith and her family and never hiding it in order to white-wash herself or make herself more acceptable to the masses makes me really happy. Faith is a huge part of Latinx culture, and Laurie is an example of that. There are so many minority women playing for their faith this year, so please take time to read more about them; Laurie is just one of many now and hopefully many more to come.
She freaking winked at the judges before performing her floor routine. Winked. Most people just present to the judges and then perform, Laurie winked. She's also making quite an impression amongst journalists. She's known as the "Human Emoji" for her extremely expressive faces and her hilarious responses to interviews. She's a vibrant personality on all social media platforms, and watching her cheer on Aly and Simone in the Women's All Around Individual Final was hilarious, her excitement was that tangible. However, the most inspiring thing about her was her affirmation right before her routine earlier this week. Laurie Hernandez is such a joy to watch, and she makes you want to cheer for her.
5. She's way more talented than we'll ever be.
Laurie was used more than Gabby Douglas in the Women's All Around Team Final, and Gabby Douglas was the reigning Olympic Champion at the time. She's younger than all of her teammates but she's keeping up with them and doing better in some cases. She scored a 15.366 on the beam, which was better than both returning Olympic Champions, Aly and Gabby, and she was only scored .2 behind Simone Biles, who is officially the best gymnast in the world. Her floor routine is spectacular, and she is an amazing vaulter too. We didn't get a chance to see her do the uneven bars this Olympic Games, but since she's only 16, who knows what'll happen in Tokyo in 2020?
I am a Puerto-Rican Christian from New Jersey, so you can understand why Laurie Hernandez means so much to me and my family. But I hope my reasons gave you just a little bit of encouragement to love Laurie just as much as I do. We're going to be able to watch her compete again Monday, August 15th in the Balance Beam final and I know she's going to kill it. Laurie is five-feet of power and talent, and we're so lucky we get to see her just as she's starting her journey. Just like other Jersey hero Batman, we may not realize we need her right now, but we most definitely do.