Olympic gold medalist Laurie Hernandez visits Legacy Gymnastics

PELHAM – Olympic gold medalist and Dancing with the Stars champion Laurie Hernandez visited Legacy Gymnastics on Sunday, March 26, to host a private skills clinic as a part of a fundraiser to help the gym build a new facility as well as to raise money for the Hydrocephalus Association.

Hernandez, who won gold in the team division and silver on the balance beam in the 2016 Rio de Janerio Olympic games, touched down at Legacy Gymnastics at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning and kicked off the day by signing autographs and taking pictures with dozens of young gymnasts.

According to gym owner Brianna Mitchell, gymnasts won time with Hernandez by raising money via online donations. The young gymnasts had an opportunity to eat breakfast with Hernandez, participate in private skills clinic, a photograph and autograph session, a Q&A session and much more depending on how much money they raised.

“I think the best question I’ve been asked would probably be how did I start gymnastics,” Hernandez said. “They’re all very young and they’re curious to know how I started out. They also asked me how old I was when I started and when I said 5 years old, a lot of them giggled and raised their hand and said, ‘I’m 5, too!’ It was so adorable.”

Hernandez, who is the Season 23 winner of Dancing with the Stars, said she also got a few questions about what the experience was like.

“I had never really touched a ballroom floor,” she said. “The biggest difference (between ballroom dancing and gymnastics) would have to be the heels and having to dance with a partner. In gymnastics you’re solo and barefoot all the time, so having to switch from being barefoot to being all the way on your toes in heels, my balance was completely off.”

But the 16-year-old high school junior said it’s an honor for her to be a role model to younger gymnasts.

“It’s nice to know that these younger kids really look up to me,” she said. “When I was a little girl I looked up to a lot of gymnasts, so I’m glad I’m able to give back to these little girls who love the sport so much.”

Hernandez said she got a chance to talk to the gymnasts about how difficult it can be to achieve your goals. Although times will get hard, Hernandez encouraged the girls to remember the little girl inside of them that loves the sport and why they wanted to start the sport in the first place.

Aside from inspiring the next generation of gymnasts, Hernandez said she also wants to shine a light on Hydrocephalus, which is a life-threatening neurological condition that impacts more than a million Americans of all ages. Legacy Gymnastics coach Bethany Buchanan’s 3-year-old daughter Layla was born with the condition, and for the past two years the gym has made it one of its mission to help raise money for research.

Mitchell said a portion of the proceeds from the fundraiser will go to the Hydrocephalus Association to help find a cure for the condition. Right now, the only treatment is brain surgery. So far, Layla has had three brain surgeries to manage the condition.

With Hydrocephalus too much cerebrospinal fluid builds up in the brain. To drain the fluid, a small tube called a shunt is inserted into the brain to drain excess fluid to another part of the body, usually the abdominal cavity.

“Layla is a miracle child,” Mitchell said. “We need to raise more awareness of this condition because not many people are familiar with it.”

Some of the proceeds from the fundraiser will also go toward building a new gymnastics facility, which will sit across from Pelham Ridge Elementary. Mitchell said construction would likely begin sometime in April. The new facility, which will sit on about 2 acres of land, is scheduled to be completed by January 2018.

As for Hernandez’s future, she said getting her driver’s license is at the top of her list right now.

“We have to have a certain number of driving hours and I’m not home enough to really do that, but hopefully soon,” Hernandez said. “Also, going to college and probably coming back to gymnastics because I really love the sport.”