As her sport undergoes a national reckoning, Olympic gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman spoke before a supportive crowd at the University at Albany Monday.
Raisman is promoting her memoir “Fierce: How Competing For Myself Changed Everything.” The 24-year-old appeared at SEFCU Arena as part of the University at Albany’s Speaker Series.
The three-time Olympic gold medalist who competed in the London and Rio games was greeted enthusiastically by a crowd of students, young gymnasts, and members of the community. UAlbany said about 3,000 tickets were distributed.
It comes about a year after Raisman said she had been a victim of disgraced former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, now in prison for sexual abuse and child pornography. Raisman memorably confronted Nassar during his sentencing in January.
“Imagine feeling like you have no power and no voice. Well, you know what, Larry? I have both power and voice and I am only beginning to just use them,” she said.
But the horrors Raisman suffered and the slow motion dismantling of USA Gymnastics over the past several months made up just a small portion of the discussion.
Late in the evening, she discussed her current work as an advocate for child abuse prevention.
“For us if one adult had the character and had been educated to do the right thing and actually cared to do it, then he would have been stopped a very, very long time ago, and it would’ve saved generations,” Raisman said. “And so often when there’s an abuser it’s not just one victim; there’s many, and the abuse can go on for generations.”
Before Raisman became an icon of the MeToo movement, she was a gifted and driven athlete. She said it wasn’t her choice to start gymnastics at 18 months, but within the decade she would beg her coaches and parents to keep practicing beyond daily time limits.
Even still, a theme of the talk was that everyone has struggles, hard times and days when they just don’t want to get out of bed.
“My life is not always as it seems when people tune in once every four years. It’s not always getting gold medals and being happy and having the best performance that we can do. There are so many times where we struggle, so many injuries, so many rough days before that, so many bad competitions, and so that was really important for me to be able to be honest and to share my story and to share that there were plenty of times where you want to give up,” Raisman said.
Raisman urged the crowd to stand up to bullying, saying she wasn’t comfortable wearing a tank top for years after her fifth-grade classmates made fun of her muscles. With many young people listening, she admitted she doesn’t read her social media mentions; there’s just too much negativity. But she says things are improving.
“For so long our society put so much emphasis on sports and winning all the time and attacking people when they didn’t do the best that they could and also looking the other way if an athlete beat up their wife, you know, it was like, as long as they were playing football well, who cared?”
With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics fast approaching, Raisman has been cagey in her public statements about making another run at the medal stand. In February, she suggested repairing USA Gymnastics was more important than a gold medal. But by late 2018, it sounds like the door is still open.
“People always said it was a young girls’ sport, which you typically see a lot more younger gymnasts, but I think that’s changing a lot,” Raisman said. “If you look at a lot of the gymnasts from the other countries from all around the world, they’re in their 20s and they’re doing an incredible job. So I think it’s very cool and very exciting. I feel like right now we’re living in a time where a lot of athletes are doing a lot of really great things inside and outside of their sports, and we’re seeing a lot of really incredible athletics, which is very cool, kind of taking things to another level and proving people wrong.”
Being a good person is more important than being a good athlete, she said.