NEW YORK – Laurie Hernandez hardly considers her 14 months away from competitive gymnastics a break.
Since earning Olympic team gold and balance beam silver in Rio, the 17-year-old won “Dancing with the Stars,” authored a book and even enrolled in ballet lessons.
But her most rewarding experience has been speaking at schools. Students have asked her seemingly every question, from when she started taking gymnastics classes (age 5) to whether she climbed trees when she was younger (yes, all the time).
Seeing how many children were inspired by her Rio performance motivated Hernandez as she prepares to return to the sport.
“I didn’t realize at the Olympics how many people were truly watching,” Hernandez said Wednesday night at the annual Women’s Sports Foundation Salute to Women in Sports. “Now I’m excited to get back into the gym.”
Hernandez recently added handstand holds, back tucks and front flips to her conditioning program, in addition to continuing to run and lift weights.
“It’s a little difficult, but it’s fine,” she said. “I’ll push it a little more after the holidays.”
She has her eye on returning to competition in 2018.
“That’s definitely the hope,” Hernandez said. “I’m not going to rush anything, but I would love to compete in 2018.”
Hernandez, who said her next goal in gymnastics is to compete at the world championships for the first time and hopefully the 2020 Olympics, has not yet identified her comeback meet.
She noted that Aly Raisman took more than two years off after the London Olympics.
“I know every athlete is different,” Hernandez said. “But I wouldn’t mind following in her footsteps.”
Simone Biles, who has not competed since winning four gold medals in Rio, recently announced that she plans on returning to full-time training Nov. 1 and competition next summer.
“I look up to her, even though we are teammates,” Hernandez said. “I can’t wait to see her out there, but hopefully I’ll be out there with her soon.”
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