Gymnastics Star Laurie Hernandez 'Very Proud of Being a Second Generation Puerto Rican,' Says Her Mom
Women’s gymnastics newest superstar, Laurie Hernandez, is “very proud of being a second generation Puerto Rican” says her mother, Wanda.
“What I’m noticing is a lot of Latina families who were not previously following gymnastics are so excited to see Laurie,” Wanda Hernandez told USA Gymnastics on Friday.
Laurie, 16, who nabbed a spot on the U.S. women’s gymnastics team heading to Rio in August, told reporters last week that she doesn’t “think it matters what race you are. If you want to train hard enough to go to the Olympics, then you’re going to go out and you’re going to do it. It doesn’t matter what skin color or who you are.”
The New Jersey native is the first Latina gymnast to represent Team USA at the Olympics since 2004.
“The support and the love for Laurie touched our hearts,” Wanda said. “It was also beautiful to see the caring support and well wishes from our community.”
And while Laurie says her heritage doesn’t factor into her beam performance, she is very proud of her Latina roots.
For more of PEOPLE’s Olympic coverage, pick up our collector’s edition, The Best of the Games, on sale now.
“I think it’s amazing that I can go out there and be myself and the fact that I’m carrying Puerto Rico on my back a little bit is such an honor,” she said after Olympic trials.
Meet the Rio-Bound Women’s Gymnastics Team
Wanda recalls a particularly moving moment when a young girl wept last year when she wasn’t able to get Laurie’s autograph.
“Last year, Laurie was getting on the bus after P&G’s and the bus door closed. There was this little Latina girl who was standing by the bus with her parents and looked like she was ready to cry. I asked the girl who she was waiting for and she said, ‘I’m waiting for Laurie. I really want her to sign my bag,’ ” says Wanda. “I got the bag and knocked on the door of the bus, and Laurie signed it.”
Wanda ran into the same little girl and her family at the Olympic trials in July – and she was sporting her prized autographed bag.
“The mother told me, ‘My daughter has been such a tremendous fan, but when your Laurie signed her bag, we had to travel six hours to come see her a the Olympic trials,’ ” says Wanda.
“How incredible is that?”