Olympic Gymnast Aly Raisman Inspires Sacred Heart Audience

Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman spoke about becoming a world-class gymnast and surviving sexual abuse to a sold-out crowd at Sacred Heart University’s Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts in late September.

Jen Lada, ESPN reporter, moderated the discussion and started by asking Raisman, 24, how she got involved in gymnastics.

“I started at 2 years old in mommy-and-me classes,” said Raisman, a Needham, Mass., native who wrote about her challenges and successes in Fierce: How Competing for Myself Changed Everything. Her love for gymnastics continued to grow even as she tried other sports, she said. When her schedule got too hectic, her parents asked her to choose one sport. “I picked gymnastics and never looked back,” said Raisman. “I loved it. I thought about it all the time, even when I was at school.”

That doesn’t mean the sport was easy for Raisman. She was held back from advancing to a new level when she was young, but she said it didn’t bother her; she remembers just being happy to do gymnastics. Her parents, who always supported her, told her she was lucky to repeat the level.

Raisman said she had to maintain a healthy balance to handle the pressures of practicing and competing. “You can easily push yourself too much,” she said. “Gymnastics is mentally and physically demanding. You can really hurt yourself.”

Raisman said she was hard on herself throughout her career and would get upset if a routine didn’t go the way she planned, but she learned from those mistakes. “You have to remember that setbacks are important. They keep you on your toes and keep you motivated,” she said.

To control her anxiety and stress, Raisman said she meditates and does her best to surround herself with happy people.

The conversation eventually turned from her career to her role as an advocate for survivors of sexual assault.

“I’m ready to talk about it,” Raisman told Lada and the audience. “Colleges need to hear it.”

She said coping is hard for survivors, and everyone processes the trauma differently. “It’s hard to admit to yourself,” said Raisman.

When she reported that the USA Gymnastics team doctor was abusing her, she said, she knew it was the right thing to do. What she’s having a hard time understanding is why she has to explain to so many people why sexual assault is bad. “I don’t know why people need to hear that so much” Raisman said.

She said she’s been speaking at events so she can get the word out to survivors that they’re not alone, and it’s not their fault. She encouraged the audience to report any inappropriate behavior they may see or hear.

“I hope we can see a shift in our culture,” Raisman told Lada.

Once the discussion with Lada concluded, audience members were able to ask the gymnast questions. Long lines formed at the microphones in the front of the theater. Guests asked Raisman about becoming an advocate for sexual assault, dealing with the media and more.