Carroll Gardens

Aly Raisman talks gold medals, body image, bullying

Olympic gymnast speaks candidly at Senesh School

November 1, 2017 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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A willingness to work hard and a belief in one’s abilities to overcome obstacles are important keys to success, Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Aly Raisman told an audience during a candid discussion at a Carroll Gardens private school.

Raisman, a two-time Olympian, was the guest speaker at a recent event at the Hannah Senesh Community Day School, at 342 Smith St., where she was interviewed by journalist Virginia Heffernan about her life, her storied gymnastics career and her Jewish faith.

Heffernan, who is a Senesh parent, led a discussion that centered on Raisman’s Jewish values and how those values helped to shape her competitive spirit, according to school officials who attended the session.

Raisman and Heffernan also spoke about how the Olympic champion’s values motivated her to speak out on important issues like body image and bullying.

Describing the keys to her success, Raisman told the audience that several factors played in her favor, including: her deep love of gymnastics, her willingness to hard work, her self-confidence and having parents who supported her.

She recalled that at age 6, when she  was the only student in her gymnastics class who did not move up to the next level, her parents still made her feel like she was special.

Raisman was bold, even as a child. She predicted that one day she would compete in the Olympics in the floor exercise. At the time, “floor was my worst event,” she told Heffernan. “I’ve seen videos of myself back then and it’s not that pretty, but I worked hard. I think there’s something really powerful about being sure of yourself.”

Raisman was the captain of the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Olympic teams that won team gold medals in 2012 and 2016.

Raisman is the second-most-decorated American female gymnast in the history of the sport, having earned a total of six medals during her glorious Olympic career.

At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, she won two gold medals for team competition and floor exercise, and a bronze medal for balance beam. Four years later, she at the Rio Olympics, she earned a gold medal for team competition and silver medals in women’s individual all-around and floor exercise.

Raisman’s identity as a Jew was proudly on display when she performed the floor exercise routine that won her the gold medal in London games. She was accompanied by “Hava Nagila,” the popular Jewish folk song. Raisman said she selected that music when she was 17 years old and has come to appreciate how powerfully the music resonates with Jewish audiences.

“What I have learned over the years is how proud I am to be a Jew,” she told Heffernan. “I didn’t realize that I would not only get to represent the United States of America, I would also get to represent the Jewish community all over the world.”

Raisman isn’t afraid to speak out on controversial issues like body image and bullying.

She recalled that in her fifth grade gym class, boys picked on her after she beat them in a chin-up competition. Her tormentors told her that her arms, which were muscular, were disgusting.

“Up until last year I never wanted to wear tank tops. It took me a long time to get over it. Finally, after this past Olympics, I just said, ‘You know, you can wake up in the morning and you can feel self-conscious, or you can wake up in the morning and embrace who you are,’” she said.

Raisman was the second speaker in Conversations@Senesh, a speaker series sponsored by philanthropists Judy and Michael Steinhardt. The first was feminist icon Gloria Steinem.

“We are so inspired by Aly Raisman’s passion and dedication,” Head of School Nicole Nash said in a statement.

Nash called the legendary gymnast “a role model to many of our students.”


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