by, Lauren Raziano & Caroline McCarthy, Social Media Editor & Asst. Features Editor
Aly Raisman spoke to the Manhattan College community about her time as an Olympic athlete who had experienced sexual assault on Thursday, Mar. 25. The event was hosted by both Student Government and students within the Communication department through a Zoom lecture meeting and later an open discussion for attendees.
Raisman, a two-time Olympian and three-time Olympic gold medalist, competed at the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics. She served as a team captain and played an integral role in leading Team USA to a gold medal in the team event. She brought a sense of maturity to the 2016 team, where she was the oldest member at 22 years old.
“I think I also learned from a young age that there’s more important things in life than winning,” Raisman said. “It can feel like it’s almost life or death at that moment, if I don’t do as well as I want to, but I tried to remind myself that at the end of the day it’s just your gymnastics.”
Her parents were strong supporters of her gymnastics career but reminded her that her place on the podium does not define her.
“My parents would always tell me that people remember me for the kind of person I am rather than what place I’m on the podium, and when I was younger I didn’t understand that message at all,” Raisman said.
Raisman was considered an elite level athlete at 14 and at the time, she was four years from competing in the Olympic games which was a goal she was working towards. She felt a lot of pressure to perform and make the team and achieve gold.
“We live in a society where our country has a lot of really great athletes but there’s a lot of pressure for athletes to win,” Raisman said. ”I think we recognize that winning was the priority for the team and then the rest was important but the priority for us was doing it together.”
Raisman addressed concerns regarding professional athlete’s mental health while competing and recounted that while training at such a young age, the effects of stress were really the last thing on anyone’s mind. Her teammates were essential to improving her mental health during these times as they would often turn towards each other for support.
“We’re so serious in the gym, and it’s so intense and it’s so much pressure that I just think when we’re not at the gym, we’re just so goofy and so silly and really let ourselves come out of our shell. We were so young and mental health wasn’t really something that was talked about and so I don’t think we realized how much we were helping ourselves by just laughing, being silly, and just having fun.”
Raisman is a part of the #MeToo Movement, where women across the globe join in solidarity with sexual assault survivors by addressing their own experiences. As a member of the USA team, she publicly spoke out against the infamous sexual abuser Larry Nassar in court in 2018. Raisman later sued The United States Olympic Committee for not taking the appropriate steps to stop the team’s former doctor from assaulting hundreds of athletes right under their noses.
Raisman’s story struck a chord with Manhattan College students. Senior Micaela Beatty spoke to The Quadrangle via email after the event.
“In my opinion Aly Raisman is the epitome of a strong female athlete,” Beatty wrote. “Not only is she an incredible athlete, but she also helps promote feminism by sharing the importance of being heard.”
Beatty is one of the many women who have been impacted by Raisman’s experience.
“I really didn’t realize when I first shared my story publicly how many people would be able to relate, and it’s really unfortunate how many people can relate to it, but it’s also with something so horrible I’ve been so impressed,” Raisman said. “And so, I’m just really grateful for all the love and support and the community that I have.”
This support system is made evident through Raisman’s involvement in the #Me-Too movement. Getting support from her fellow athletes, family, friends and strangers have been comforting as she shared her hardships with the public.
“It’s been very validating and so I hope to help validate other people and make them feel comfortable coming forward and even if they share their story with someone else and they’re not supported,” Raisman said. “I hope that they’re able to recognize there are good people out there who will support them.”
Raisman’s confidence to share her story is inspiring, especially as she is a role model for others and encourages them to acknowledge their experiences.
“It can be very empowering for women to see such a powerful female athlete speak about these difficult topics,” Beatty said. “I believe Aly Raisman has impacted the lives of so many women because as she shared her story, many other women also gained the courage to share theirs.”
Raisman also highlighted the importance of being kind to oneself and practicing self-care. This is something that sophomore Rebecca McCann heard loud and clear. McCann describes how Raisman’s lecture had her reevaluating how she spoke to herself on a daily basis.
“[Aly] made me rethink the way I have talked to myself in the past,” McCann said. “I want to strive to talk to myself better in the future from now on like she said. I think there’s really something to talking to yourself how you would your best friend.”
Most importantly, Raisman recognizes that giving yourself time to relax is key to recovery even though rewarding yourself and having self-care moments can be challenging.
“I try to just be kinder to myself but it’s definitely, I’m definitely my own biggest critic, so I came from gymnastics so I’m a perfectionist, so I’m used to picking out every little thing that I do wrong so I’m working on giving myself a break, and trying to be more go with the flow, it’s definitely interesting and a challenge,” Raisman said. “It’s really important to be kind to yourself and give yourself the same love that you give to, you know, your kid or someone that you love and care about.”