U.S. Gymnast Aly Raisman Talks Friendship, Fun, and Fashion
By Rachel Sokol with Photos by Todd Dionne for Reebok
Three years ago, when the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team won a gold medal in London; fans nationwide rejoiced, and the young athletes made the talk show rounds, glowing with pride. Aly Raisman, just 18 at the time, served as captain of the gold medal-winning U.S. women’s gymnastics team; and she individually won a gold medal on the floor and a bronze medal on the balance beam.
Today, Aly is 21 and still kickin’ it, vying for a coveted spot on the 2016 Olympic team. After spending time in Los Angeles, competing on ABC TV’s ‘Dancing With The Stars’, Aly is currently training in Burlington, Massachusetts at Brestyan’s, her hometown gym. At press time, she’s not guaranteed a spot for the 2016 Olympics because this is determined after Olympic Trials, which will be held in San Jose this summer. (Next year, five athletes will make the 2016 U.S. women’s gymnastics team. There is one automatic bid–whoever wins Olympic Trials—and the other four members are selected by the coaches.) Thus far today her sponsors include Reebok, GK Elite, Walden Behavioral Care and Revision Skincare,
As Aly mentally and physically warms up for Olympic try-outs, she spoke with Millennium Magazine about her volunteer work, her passion for fashion, and supporting her teammates.
MM: It was a whirlwind time following your Olympic accomplishments. What did you do after the hype died down a bit and you had some time to yourself?
AR: At the time of the 2012 Olympics, I had just turned 18 and graduated from high school. I was always known as ‘the gymnast’, so taking off a year from gymnastics following London was crucial. I was pretty burned out; I’ve been doing gymnastics since I was two and hadn’t had a break or a vacation in many years. The year after the Olympics was crazy and so much fun. I was able to tour the U.S. with my teammates and perform in 40 cities; and I was on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and had a blast. I think taking the year off, traveling, meeting new people and experiencing new things outside of gymnastics really helped me come into my own and become confident and realize the person I wanted to be.
MM: You recently participated in a photo shoot for ESPN magazine’s Body2015 issue, in which professional athletes posed ‘au natural,’ but in a tasteful manner. How was that experience? You looked great. (Note: You can view the photos by Mark Seliger, at ESPN.com; along with a video interview.)
AR: Thank you! I was so happy with how the photos came out. ESPN doesn’t give the athletes approval of the photos, so we had to wait to see it the same day as everyone else! The waiting to see the photos online and in the magazine was more nerve racking than the shoot itself. I decided to do it because I know that a few years ago, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do it. I think it’s important to take risks and do things out of our comfort zones. I also think it’s important for girls to love their bodies and be proud of the way they look. I have insecurities and I’m not perfect, no one is, but I have learned to love my body. I work out some days up to seven hours, my body is my tool in gymnastics, so if I don’t learn to accept every flaw and appreciate my body for the way it is, I won’t ever be successful in my sport or in life. Doing the Body Issue was a reflection of the growth I’ve made as a person. Additionally, through my work with Walden Behavioral Care, a New England-based healing institution, I’ve been able to talk with kids at schools about the importance of feeling comfortable in your own skin and being confident, and share my personal journey as well.
MM: You’re only 21, but have been called an older gymnast. I can’t believe anyone would say that.
AR: Everyone likes to over dramatize the fact that I’m “too old” for gymnastics. I feel great. I’m more confident, smarter and stronger than I was last Olympics. I’m not saying it’s easier or I feel 100 percent confident, but I give 110 percent everyday so I can look back and know that no matter what happens, I’ll have no regrets.
MM: You were captain of the 2012 U.S. women’s gymnastics team. What is your definition of a leader?
AR: A leader is someone who is caring and looks after their teammates. I try to do this to the best of my ability. I’m the oldest gymnast on the U.S. national team so it’s important to me that the girls feel comfortable talking to me about anything if they’re having a tough time. The good thing about being part of a team is the bond that we all share. Just because I’ve been the team captain and I’m the oldest doesn’t mean I don’t need them to help me when I’m struggling too. We all work together as a team which is why USA gymnastics has been more dominant than ever before. We have a healthy competitive relationship; we’re friends but we also push each other to get better.
MM: Ok, time for the inspirational questions. Favorite quotes?
AR: “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you are right.” “Believe in your heart you are destined to do great things.”
MM: Movie that motivates you?
AR: My favorite movie is ‘Miracle on Ice’. The 1980 Miracle hockey team is so inspiring, I wasn’t even alive then, but the story gives me chills and goosebumps every time! I also just love watching sports. I’m a huge sports fan. Watching other athletes succeed is so motivating.
MM: You’re a self-proclaimed fashion lover. Tell me about your leotard line.
AR: I have a leotard line for a few years now with GK Elite. I’ve always been passionate about fashion. I live in a leotard so it’s fun to create leotards that are fashionable, comfortable, and don’t show sweat. It’s funny, on Wednesday mornings I train at the same time as the little kids who are two and three years old and sometimes our leotard match. I’m very girly, I love pink and bright colors and so do little kids so it’s fun to see them wearing the same styles as me!
MM: Favorite item of clothing in your closet? Or, since you travel often, shall I say…luggage?
AR: I am obsessed with leather jackets. I love the edgy look of a leather jacket paired with pink heels and light pink lipstick. It’s always fun to mix and match styles. Leather jackets can look good with pretty much anything!
MM: What was a teenage fashion no-no you’re guilty of wearing?
AR: Flowy capris pants, bright blue eye shadow, and way too much sparkly hair spray for gymnastics meets.
MM: Any hand-me-down items that are near and dear to your heart?
AR: My bubbie, my dad’s mom, was into fashion. She used to take me shopping and always gave me fashion advice. Lucky for me she loved Burberry, so I have a couple of her shirts that I still wear. They’re special to me because I can have a piece of her everywhere I go.
MM: Do you have a shoe or purse fetish—or both?
AR: If you ask my dad, he’ll say I have an “everything” fetish. I love shopping. But I’m so busy with training I rarely go. I try and just rest when I’m not in the gym. I like to keep my style simple but accent my outfits with a great bag or shoe. I work with Reebok so I never have a shortage of cute shoes to wear! My go-to outfit when I’m not in the gym would be jeans, a t-shirt, and a great pair of heels.
MM: You’ve traveled the world. Any favorite city?
AR: I have traveled the world but have barely seen anything! When we compete, we are extremely focused and are in lockdown mode. We don’t really sightsee except for when we compete in Italy. I’ve been to Italy four times for competitions and it’s beautiful. Every place I visit is incredible no matter where it is because it’s amazing to experience different cultures and meet new people. I went to Brazil when I was 15 years old for my first international competition, so if I make the 2016 Olympics, which will be in Rio de Janeiro, then I’ll be back in Brazil seven years later, which would be very special.
MM: You have a special bond with fellow Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas, even though you’ve confessed she’s neater than you when you’re roommates! Why are friendships, in general, so important to you, with both fellow gymnasts and non-gymnasts?
AR: Friendships and family are most important to me. I value my friendship with Gabby a lot because we’ve been through so much together. I am definitely always the messiest one out of all my teammates, but Gabby is really laid-back so it doesn’t bother her. Gabby is so easy to room with because we are similar outside of the gym. We always are resting or sleeping. We go to bed early and we nap so we make great roommates. It’s fun rooming with Gabby and reminiscing about the great memories we’ve shared. I hope we can create many more together in the next few years.
MM: Which charities and causes are you involved with?
AR: My grandmother passed away from lung cancer in 2011. I work with Uniting Against Lung Cancer and hosted a Gala benefitting them, which resulted in a grant for research awarded to a doctor at Dana Farber. I also love working with kids, so my relationship with Walden Behavioral Care is really important to me. I’ve also worked with the Special Olympics.
MM: The winter holidays are just around the corner! What are your best Hanukkah memories?
AR: I always spent time with my family and grandparents. Both of my grandmothers and one of my grandfathers passed away, so every year I’m always comforted by the memories that I used to share with them.
Follow U.S. gymnast Aly Raisman on Twitter at: @aly_raisman