It’s 2020, which means one thing: It’s an Olympic year. (Also a presidential election year, sure, but I am much more looking forward to the Olympics than the election.) However, as we gear up for #Tokyo2020, one familiar face won’t be competing: beloved Jewish gymnast Aly Raisman.
“The past 10 years have been such a whirlwind that I haven’t really processed all that has happened, and sometimes I wonder if I ever will,” Raisman wrote in an Instagram post on January 14. She framed the statement by saying that her mom called her after seeing a TV report that she “decided to skip the Tokyo Olympics,” and she thought, woah, it’s not as simple as that.
So, she put her feelings about her “retirement” (again, so much more than that) into words. In the Instagram post, Raisman talks about what she would say to her 8-year-old self, watching a VHS tape recording of the 1996 Olympics. “I dreamt of wearing a red-white-and-blue leotard at the Olympics and imagined myself standing on the podium. One of the best things about being a kid is the belief that anything is possible, and that no dream is too big. I suspect I keep going back to that time because I now know the power of that little girl’s dream.”
And what a powerful dream it was: Raisman competed in the 2012 Olympics and the 2016 Olympics, both times as captain of the U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics team.
Her 2012 routine was to “Hava Nagila,” becoming instantly iconic:
Raisman has won three gold medals, two silver medals, and one bronze medal, not to mention countless trophies at gymnastics championships outside the Olympics.
“I think about what I’d say to her now,” Raisman continues, talking about her 8-year-old self. “I would tell her about all the amazing people she will meet along the way, and the success she will have. I envision her eyes lighting up and a smile spreading across her face as she learns she will one day be like those gymnasts she watched on TV, and that she will inspire some other little girl to cartwheel around her house, dreaming of one day competing at the Olympics. The power of dreams is too big to put into words, but I’d try anyway since it is what makes magic happen. It’s also what will get her through the tough times.”
“I really struggle,” Raisman writes, “when I think about whether I’d tell her about those tough times. I wonder if I would tell her that life will be filled with ups and downs, and that there are people in the sport who will fail to protect her and her teammates. It would be so hard to tell her that, but I would make sure she knows she will get through it and she will be OK. And I would tell her that it is often in our darkest hours, when we feel most vulnerable and alone, that we realize our greatest growth.”
Raisman, in 2017, came forward as a survivor of Larry Nasser’s abuse, a former doctor who worked for USAG and Michigan State University and who abused more than 250 women and children over the course of two decades. Since coming forward, Raisman has been an outspoken advocate for victims and for making sure the organized gymnastics world changes for the better. As Mia Merrill wrote in Alma, “Nassar will spend the rest of his life in prison, but Raisman is committed to ensuring that his legacy does not allow for any further abuse in sports.”
In the Instagram post, Raisman goes on to talk about her parents and her teammates.
She ends with a powerful message: “As a little girl, I thought what mattered most was making it to the Olympics, but I’ve learned that my love for gymnastics is more important. It is this love that fueled my Olympic dreams, and it is this love that now inspires me to do everything I can to make it safer for the many wonderful people in the sport and all the little 8-year-olds out there who will be watching the gymnasts in Tokyo, dreaming of one day making it to the Olympics themselves…”
Read the full note on her Instagram:
We’re so proud of you, Aly. We can’t wait to see what’s next.
Image of Aly Raisman in header by Michael Short/Getty Images