July 23, 2018, on BleacherReport.com
Cover Story, BR 50 Power Issue
The Olympic gymnast and her Army of Survivors have given victims everywhere a new power to speak up. Find out why the work ahead matters most, in one of five cover stories for the B/R POWER 50—a celebration of 2018’s most influential people in sports culture.
Inside Exxcel Gymnastics, young girls crowd around a photo collage, boxing each other out for the best view of their hometown Olympian plastered across the wall. Among the cluster of pictures in this Newton, Massachusetts, gym is an image of 10-year-old Aly Raisman, so determined to hold her position, her little arms holding up the entire weight of her body, while her legs and toes point to the ceiling.
Back then, Raisman was not the most skilled. Just strong. She was smaller than everyone and burned to beat everyone, whether it was press handstands or chin-ups. “Can we do a contest?! Can we do a contest?!” she’d exclaim. If she did 20 chin-ups yesterday, she’d pull off 21 the next day, even if it was not a contest.
She was seven years old.
There are also black-and-white newspaper photos of 22-year-old Raisman, roaring, as she wins gold at the 2016 Olympics, next to headlines like: “Gold Fever!” and “Alexandra the Great!” The young girls who train at the gym had huddled around a television that year, cheering Raisman’s every move in navy T-shirts that said “Team Aly.”
The girls see that Raisman was just like them: Poised. Relentless. Driven by dreams bigger than their bodies. “She is a hero,” says 10-year-old Stella Bjork. Ally Chilton, 13, gushes that she shares the same name as Raisman. “She’s really calm under pressure, which I find really inspiring,” Chilton says. “Competitions are really stressful and it’s hard to stay calm. But she does it.”
Throughout her career, Raisman kept everyone calm. She was a leader in a sport of individuals, telling nervous teammates to “Trust your training. Just breathe” before competitions. “She is there for people more than she is for herself,” says Maggie Nichols, a close friend and USA teammate since 2013, who now competes for the University of Oklahoma.
That is how Raisman found herself standing in front of a podium in a courtroom in January. Shoulders back, teeth clenched. Laser eyes, stiff upper lip. It was her time to speak. In this moment, Raisman was fighting not for herself but for the safety of girls everywhere; girls just like those at Exxcel. (READ FULL STORY HERE).