By: Jan Engoren Contributing Writer
Olympic gold medalist and gymnast Aly Raisman spoke to a full house at Congregation B’nai Israel (CBI) in Boca Raton last month, as part of the synagogue’s CBI Inspires Speakers Series.
The event was moderated by Ashleigh Walters, WPTV-NBC Channel 5 anchor.
The 24-year-old, spoke about her rigorous Olympic training, becoming a voice for the #MeToo movement, coming to grips with the physical, mental and emotional ordeals she endured and finding out what’s most important in life.
In 2017, Raisman revealed she was one of the many victims sexually abused starting at the age of 15, by Larry Nassar, the Olympic team physician. She recently led more than 140 survivors in receiving the Arthur Ashe Award at the 2018 ESPY Awards.
Nassar is now serving a 40-175 year sentence in federal prison in Arizona.
“Some days I’m calm, happy and hopeful,” she said. “Those are my good days. Other days I’m frustrated, anxious and have no energy. The last few years have been a rollercoaster.”
Her 2017 book, “Fierce: How Competing for Myself Changed Everything,” became a New York Times best-seller.
Raisman competed at the 2012 Olympic games in London as part of the “Fierce Five” team, which included Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Kyla Ross, and Jordyn Wieber, and again four years later in Rio De Janeiro.
Under her leadership as U.S. team captain, her squads took the team gold medals in both sets of games.
In 2011 at the World Championships Raisman performed a floor routine to Hava Nagila and won the bronze medal. She received an outpouring of support from the Jewish community worldwide, something she says has stayed with her to this day.
According to Raisman, one in four girls and one in six boys is abused before the age of 18. She quotes statistics saying 30 percent of all sexual abuse occurs within families.
“It’s hard not to be angry and pissed off,” she said. “It’s hard not to think about what happened, but I try to take care of myself and have balance in my life. I will keep fighting to ensure the next generation of gymnasts doesn’t have to experience this.”
She was critical of the United States Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics for their lax attitude toward the sexual abuse allegations and encouraged the audience to be vigilant and aware of potential sexual abuse.
“If you see something, report it and be persistent,” she said.
What advice does Raisman have for other would-be gold medalist gymnasts?
“If you love it, stick with the sport you love, if it makes you happy,” she said.
For parents, she advises them not to be mad if their child doesn’t meet their expectations. “No kid falls off the balance beam on purpose,” she said.
Raisman spoke about growing as a person after finishing fourth in two significant competitions.
“When you don’t do as well as you want, it can lead you to become a better version of yourself,” she said. “Every situation is a learning opportunity. Find the silver lining in every situation.”
She recalls the toll of competition: stress, hard work and constant pressure, waking up many nights in a cold sweat.
To calm her mind and her fears, Raisman engages in positive self-talk.
She travels with essential oils – especially peppermint – which calms her and prevents stress headaches.
She meditates every day and eats a plant-based diet, admitting, however, to indulging in a slice of room service cheesecake.
What is the best advice she has ever received?
“Don’t let the Olympics be the highlight of your life,” iconic shoe designer Stuart Weitzman told her. And, her parents advised, “It’s better to be a kind person, than to take first place on the podium.”
“Winning isn’t everything,” she said. “There are more important things in life.”