By Jalen Wade
Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman once used platforms for her gymnastics routines. Now, she uses them to speak out against sexual assault.
On Thursday, March 28, Raisman spoke to a packed hall in Stamp Student Union’s Grand Ballroom about the trials and tribulations of being a professional athlete and survivor of sexual abuse. Raisman was brought in as part of “Hear the Turtle,” a speech series dedicated to open dialogues on topics facing the world today.
With a total of six olympic medals, Raisman is the second most decorated olympic gymnast of all time. She is also the first American gymnast to win gold for the floor exercise, and is one of two U.S. gymnasts to make olympic teams back-to-back in over fifteen years.
Despite her youth, Raisman is someone that many young women look up to and admire for her advocacy.
“I think she comes across as a very normal person, like she’s a normal girl you could have a conversation with. She seems very approachable,” said Sarah Nguyen, a junior marketing major.
Throughout her speech, Raisman opened up about her flaws and the obstacles she’s had to overcome in her life. Despite how much people look up to her, Raisman insisted that she is just as human as they are.
“I am a normal person, I get frustrated, I get anxious, I get down, I have great days, I have bad days. It doesn’t matter if you have 100 million followers on Instagram or zero, we’re all human beings,” Raisman said.
Raisman got involved in gymnastics at a very young age. Despite her current success with the sport, she said she wasn’t very good when she was first started out, even having to repeat a level of gymnastics. She used this lesson to show the audience that even the most skilled people had to start somewhere.
“I think people forget olympic athletes aren’t all born with this crazy talent, I was not one of those kids you picked out and said, ‘this kid is going to be an Olympic gymnast one day,’ Raisman said.
Raisman has had to take on multiple leadership roles throughout her life. At the age of 22, she was the leader of the U.S. women’s olympic gymnastics team. As the oldest of four kids, she is used to caring for others.
“I’ve always had sort of that motherly instinct, I love looking after people around me,” Raisman said.
In 2017, Raisman and several other members of the U.S. gymnastics team spoke out against the years of sexual abuse they endured under the team’s former doctor, Larry Nassar. In 2018, Nassar, who used his position to take advantage of the young women, was ultimately sentenced to 40 to 125 years in prison on sexual assault charges, according to an article from USA Today.
Raisman discussed her experience in Nassar’s care as well as what it was like to come forward with her story. Raisman said she saw how the Olympic committee was attempting to sweep the event under the rug and knew her position as a public figure made her realize that she needed to speak.
“I didn’t expect… many people to pay attention, but I knew if I came forward it would add some pressure to [the olympic committee], ” Raisman said.
Following her experience, Raisman has dedicated much of her time to ending sexual abuse. She spoke to the audience about the importance of being on the lookout for abuse and what they can do to stop it. She implored implored her audience to be the help she never received.
“if you see something, say something. Put a stop to it and take the proper action and actually help the person report it,” Raisman said. “There’s a lot of looking the other way in our society, but each and every person in this room can make a difference.”
Students at the event felt empowered by Raisman’s address.
“I think she wasn’t afraid to say things that I think a lot of people normally try to tiptoe around like big problems, questions, and statements that everyone knows about but no one wants to vocalize… she went on stage and said what she thought,” said sophomore computer science major Samantha Pearlstein.