"It was very important for me to come to Puerto Rico and visit because growing up my parents had always reinforced the culture, and especially during the holidays there was always the authentic dishes and the music and the dancing," the Mirrorball winner shared.
"Whenever we had family over, those were the three main things that we would focus on. So being able to come to Puerto Rico and see my culture first hand was so important... to be able to celebrate the people and especially to be here after the hurricane, knowing what's happened and seeing that the people are hustling and moving strong, that's really important to me," she said. "I came back in 2011, and as a kid you see things so bright and so big, and a lot of times when you grow up it doesn't look like that. But it looks the exact same as when I was a kid. Still as bright, still as big, and it made my heart so fulfilled."
Laurie's mother Wanda was by her side for the trip, which made it all the more meaningful for her. "It was so good visiting with my mom. Honestly, I think being able to come with either of my parents, and especially mom, they are the ones who witnessed that culture growing up first hand coming to Puerto Rico in the summers with their family members. To be able to come back with her and for her to be able to point out those things she saw as a child to me now as a teenager, I got to see a little glimpse of her heart too in the island. That made me so happy," she said, adding that the food had been one of her favorite parts of the visit.
The trip wasn't just about the delicious cuisine – Laurie and her mom are both true athletes, completing The Divas 5K in San Juan on February 4th! "It was actually a lot of fun," Laurie explained. "Waking up this morning having to do my hair, put on a little bit of makeup, we had our bibs that we were pinning on this morning – it actually brought me back to the Olympics when we had to do our hair, put on our makeup and put on our bibs and I got like really nervous before we started running. And then the run was smooth it was a lot of fun and then just seeing so many people come together and all run together like as an athlete running means moving forwards and I think that's exactly what's happening to the island."
Indeed, Puerto Rico is open for business. As of the end of January, 81% of hotels, 88% of casinos, and 4,000 restaurants are ready and eager to welcome back tourists.