Laurie Hernandez was a bundle of energy growing up, dancing and flipping all around her house in Old Bridge, NJ, where her family moved when she was young. So her parents enrolled her at nearby Monmouth Gymnastics. It was an investment that paid off in gold and silver.
Unless you slept through last summer, you’ll recognize Laurie as a member of the U.S. Women’s gymnastics team—aka the Final Five—who won Olympic gold together in Rio. Laurie also earned her own silver medal in an individual event, the balance beam.
Olympic glory was a fairy-tale ending for a girl so devoted to gymnastics that her parents began homeschooling her in third grade because traditional school hours conflicted with her training. It’s also just the beginning: Laurie made headlines in August when she decided to turn pro rather than attend the University of Florida and compete at the NCAA level, as had been planned. Since then, she has landed an endorsement deal with Crest toothpaste, announced she’ll publish a memoir in January and is prepping her own line of leotards. She even won Dancing With the Stars last week.
So what was Laurie’s favorite moment in a whirlwind year in which she won Olympic medals, traveled the country on a 36-city gymnastics tour, hugged Beyoncé at the MTV Video Music Awards, visited the Obamas in the White House and went backstage at Hamilton? “I have to say meeting my idol, [singer-songwriter] Tori Kelly,” she said. “I would listen to her music to get me through tough times, and it was really special to get to meet her. We are officially SnapChat friends now.”