The Olympian releases her memoir I Got This on Jan. 24
Larry Marano/REX/Shutterstock
Credit: Larry Marano/REX/Shutterstock

Laurie Hernandez didn’t have a conventional childhood.

Seemingly born with the desire to swing from anything she could climb, the New Jersey native grew up with the nickname “Monkey” and by the age of 5 had ditched ballet classes for acrobatics. By the age of 9, the future Olympian was homeschooled and doing intensive training at a facility in Texas.

Credit: Courtesy Laurie Hernandez

“I thought as a gymnast and being homeschooled that I was missing out,” says Hernandez, 16, who trained for up to 35 hours a week and missed out on birthday parties and sleepovers. “But I’ve come to realize that my friends in gymnastics are going to be the friends I have forever.”

  • For more from Hernandez, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

Learning to manage a hectic schedule has proven useful in the five months since she won Olympic gold in Rio as a member of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team.

In addition to touring with the Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions, the 5-ft. powerhouse competed on — and won — Dancing with the Stars. Now she’s back on the road with Dancing with the Stars: Live! while promoting her YA memoir I Got This (out on Tuesday).

RELATED VIDEO: Laurie Hernandez on Meeting Beyoncé and Making Kanye West Laugh

“Some days I’m like, ‘Oh, man. Another day of doing this?’ ” Hernandez tells PEOPLE of her busy life. “But then my brain switches to, ‘Look what you’re doing! You’re never going to do this again.’ [Then] I’m ready for the day and giddy walking out the door.”

After the DWTS tour ends in February, the gymnast plans on taking a “short” break before returning to her intense training routine.

“It’s been a whirlwind, but I love this sport,” says Hernandez, who hopes to go for gold again at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and later study acting in college. “People ask, ‘Why is this child always so smiley?’ I think it’s because I realize that the things I’m doing are extraordinary. I won’t ever take that for granted.”