Olympic Gymnast Aly Raisman
On Her Fierce Quest to Make a Positive Difference
By Robin Jay
Editor’s Note: Aly Raisman was named 2018 Child Advocate of the Year and the keynote speaker at the annual KidSafe Foundation’s “Shine The Light Gala” on March 10 in Boca Raton, Florida. The KidSafe Foundation is a nonprofit organization to protect children from child sexual abuse, bullying and Internet exploitation. International Opulence is a proud media sponsor and had the opportunity to interview Aly prior to the event…
International Opulence: Aly, in your book “FIERCE: How Competing For Myself Changed Everything,” please expand on the meaning behind your book’s title. At what point in your career did you go from competing out of pressure to be obedient vs. tearing down obstacles that allowed you to compete for yourself on your terms?
Aly Raisman: I titled my book “FIERCE” because I believe we all go through ups and downs in life. Life can be hard, and sometimes you feel defeated, but I want people to remember you will always come out stronger and more fierce on the other side. Hard times are part of all of our lives and make us into who we are. They may be uncomfortable to talk about, but they do help shape us. When it comes to building character, the hard times are equally as important as the good times.
I truly believe that in order to succeed, you have to focus on being the best version of yourself. Constantly comparing yourself to others makes it very hard to be confident and trust your work. I’ve learned that as long as you try your hardest and you’re a good person, you can look back with no regrets. People will always remember you for the kind of person you are rather than what place you are on the podium. As for the lowest lows, we are all survivors of something. We’ve all been through tough times. My best advice would be to talk about it. Ask for help. Remember it is okay to not be okay. We are all human; let’s all support each other.
International Opulence: When you look back on the years you invested to prepare for the Olympics, if you had the chance to go back in time, would you still try out for the games again… and, if so, what advice would the adult Aly tell the child Aly?
Aly Raisman: I would definitely still train for the Olympics! I love gymnastics and have made so many friendships over the years from the sport. I would go back and tell child Aly to trust her gut. I wish I had asked questions when I felt confused and uncomfortable.
International Opulence: When you found out about the extent of the abuse by the Olympics gymnastics physician, what did that do to your ability to trust others in positions of power? What advice do you have for women who may be going through something similar?
Aly Raisman: Lots of men and women suffer from traumatic experiences. Abuse is far more common than we allow ourselves to believe; its prevalence is disgusting. Of course, I don’t trust others as easily as I used to, but I try to find a balance between being careful and not being too paranoid. It’s definitely a work in progress, but I see a therapist who helps me find a balance and helps me cope with those days when I’m triggered. Everyone copes differently, and abuse is not something you suffer only in the moment. It stays with you for the rest of your life.
I didn’t write my book with the intention of just young women reading it; I want people of all ages to read it! I would like young girls and boys to read it to understand (at a young age) that life is full of ups and downs. No one’s life is perfect. My book does not include any graphic detail about the abuse because I want parents to be able to sit down with their children, read the Survivors chapter about grooming techniques, and explain to their children that just because someone is giving you gifts and is “nice” to you, it doesn’t mean he or she is a good person. We must educate children on how to watch out for predators and encourage them to speak up if they’re being hurt. Every adult must do better educating and supporting children so that every child feels safe.
International Opulence: Where does Aly go from here?
Aly Raisman: I do a lot of public speaking events to share the messages and values that I believe are important. I also work with Aerie, a brand that does not retouch any photos, celebrates all types of women, and encourages everyone to be confident in his or her own skin. I have a lot more work to do in the sport of gymnastics, as well. I have strongly advocated for an independent investigation into the governance of the sport, and hopefully the investigation will be a basis for widespread change so that the next generation will be safe. I will always fight for what’s right and continue to use my voice. Everyone deserves to be heard and feel safe.
Co-founders Sally Berenzweig, MEd, MA and Cherie Benjoseph, LCSW, launched KidSafe in 2009 to provide comprehensive prevention education programs to children, parents, educators and professionals.