"Final Five" Members Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez Discuss Competitive Returns, Passions Outside The Gym

By Lynn Rutherford | April 18, 2017, 5:49 p.m. (ET)
Aly Raisman (L) and Laurie Hernandez (R) spoke to TeamUSA.org about their futures both on and off the mat.

 

Will “Final Five” gymnasts Aly Raisman and Laurie Hernandez hit their gyms this summer to train for more world championships and, maybe, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games?

So far, the answer is a definite “maybe.”

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At age 22, Raisman is the eldest of the athletes — also including Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas and Madison Kocian — who won a record nine gymnastics medals, including team gold, last summer in Rio. Individually, Raisman brought home silver medals in the individual all-around and floor exercise to add to her haul of two golds and a bronze from the London 2012 Olympic Games.

But at the AAU Sullivan Award ceremony in New York City last week, where Raisman and Hernandez were finalists for the amateur athlete of the year award, the two-time Olympian wasn’t ready to call it a career.

“I’m still taking a break, and I’m enjoying it right now,” Raisman said. “I took a full year off after 2012, and I think it’s important to rest your body, and mentally to be able to enjoy the experiences and do other stuff.

“There have been so many exciting moments, and I feel like I’ve been letting it all sink in a bit more this time (than in 2012). I’m older and I feel like I’m more involved in the stuff I get to do now. I’m working a lot with the younger generation, which I think is cool, and working a lot with women, which I’m very, very excited about.”

Raisman’s current priority is campaigning to encourage young girls to continue in sports after they begin their menstrual periods.

“It’s important to have the conversation,” she said. “It’s OK to talk about it; it’s a normal thing. Every girl gets her period, and I don’t think its okay for girls to let it stop them from doing what they love to do. I can’t imagine being a gymnast and being so self conscious you actually quit your sport.”

Raisman, who began gymnastics at age 2 and has competed as elite since 2009, admitted that she, too, fought to overcome body insecurity when she was younger. Recently, she celebrated her success by posing for Sports Illustrated’s 2017 swimsuit issue.

“I had my insecurities; I think everybody does, but I’m grateful it didn’t stop me from doing my sport,” she said. “I would like to try to prevent kids from stopping doing what they love, just because they feel uncomfortable. I think the more we talk about it, the more it will help kids realize it’s normal.”

If Raisman does return to the gym, it will be with long-time coach Mihai Brestyan, even as he took a new job last month as the Australian women’s national team coach. Brestyan has coached Raisman in Burlington, Massachusetts, since 2004.

“He didn’t move to Australia,” she said. “He is going to go there more frequently, but he’s still coaching in Massachusetts. I would still work with him, 100 percent.”

Hernandez, who won a silver medal on the balance beam in addition to team gold in Rio, plans to announce her competitive future in August.

“So far, I think it’s a good possibility,” she said of trying for a second Olympic Games. “I think I’m going to take a few more months just to kind of gather my bearings and maybe pause the whirlwind for a little bit, but as of right now, it feels good to let my body rest.”

Since Rio, Hernandez has been busy being America’s sweetheart. Like Raisman, she took part in the post-Rio Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions, and then followed in Raisman’s footsteps on “Dancing with the Stars,” winning season 23’s mirror ball trophy in November. A 53-city DWTS bus tour and publication of an inspirational memoir, “I Got This: to Gold and Beyond,” followed.

“Over the past year, I’ve been able to do things I never, ever thought I would be able to do,” Hernandez said. “Being able to go on TV shows and just talk about how I got (to the Games), it’s been absolutely amazing. It’s like a big hug.”

The 16-year-old Hernandez is in demand as a motivational speaker for youngsters. After the Sullivan Awards, she flew to Des Moines, Iowa, to address some 7,000 fourth- and fifth-grade students at a statewide “Exercising Your Character” event, sponsored annually by supermarket chain Hy-Vee.

She’s also discovered something that rivals her love of sport: acting.

“I just finished an audition tape for Disney, and I’m waiting to hear,” she said. “I think absolutely I would love to be an actress.

“I notice as the months go by, I have a bigger love for it. I watched a movie (the romantic fantasy ‘The Age of Adaline’) the other day, and then re-watched it with the director’s (commentary), including ideas for the scenes. It was fascinating, and it’s such amazing acting. I would love to do that.”

It’s something she plans to pursue, eventually, in college.

“I’m really leaning toward majoring in theatre,” she said. “I have butterflies just thinking about it, but I think it would be a lot of fun. It would definitely be a lot of work, but it would be worth it.”

Both Raisman and Hernandez enjoy watching as their teammate Biles takes her turn on “Dancing with the Stars,” where so far — to no one’s surprise — she is excelling in the ballroom.

“She doesn’t need any advice, because she’s so good at it,” Raisman said. “Simone is very happy and always bubbly. I think everyone kind of wants to make it unique in their own way.

“I guess I’d tell her to just have fun with it, and when you’re not on the show, just hang out with your friends and go shopping and enjoy. Don’t be too busy to forget to be a regular kid.”

Lynn Rutherford is a sportswriter based out of New York. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.