Laurie Hernandez has already gone for the gold as a gymnast at the Olympics, but now she’s vying for the Mirrorball Trophy.
“I’m so excited! I can’t wait to do the jive,” the 16-year-old tells PEOPLE of joining season 23 of Dancing with the Stars.
Joining the new cast of the ABC reality dance competition is a full-circle moment for the gymnast, who grew up in New Jersey watching the show with her dad.
“My dad and I love to watch the show together. He used to tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘You’re gonna be on there one day,’ ” she recalls. “I would just tell him, ‘Oh, stop. You’re being silly.’ Now he’s like, ‘I told you!’ He’s so excited.”
Years of training as a gymnast has Hernandez’s body in amazing shape, but she says she’s starting at zero when it comes to ballroom dancing.
“Our gymnastics routines are choreographed, but this is something totally different,” she says. “I did take ballet when I was a little girl, but I don’t really remember it. And it was nothing like the training I’ll get now.”
Hernandez will be partnered with seasoned pro Valentin Chmerkovskiy throughout the season.
“Val is a mastermind,” says Hernandez. “It’s so nice because he seems really patient and, like me, open to new things.”
And while she’s had her fair share of experiences with harsh judges, Hernandez says she is a little worried how she’ll be scored by notoriously “grumpy” judge Len Goodman.
“I want to make Len Goodman smile,” says Hernandez. “I am just itching to get out there and have him say something good. If you can make the tough people smile, that’s when you know you’ve made it.”