Kennedy Political Union hosts Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman to speak about activism in athletics

School of Public Affairs Dean Vicky Wilkins moderated the Zoom event

Kennedy Political Union hosts Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman to speak about activism in athletics

Editor’s Note: This article contains mention of sexual abuse and disordered eating.

The Kennedy Political Union and Hillel at American University rounded out the semester with another high-profile speaker, Aly Raisman, a six-time Olympic medalist in artistic gymnastics and activist. 

The event was moderated by School of Public Affairs Dean Vicky Wilkins on Wednesday and covered a wide range of topics. The event focused on discussing Raisman’s new book, “Fierce,” which is about her past experiences with abuse and body image issues during her career as a gymnast as well as her Jewish heritage.

Raisman, inspired by her career as a gymnast, has become a prominent activist in the area of sexual abuse prevention. During her gymnastics career, Raisman was one of dozens of other young athletes who were abused by former Team USA doctor, Larry Nassar. In the conversation with Wilkins, Raisman spoke about her activism and the different organizations she works with, including Darkness to Light, a nonprofit that works to prevent child sexual abuse. 

Based on her past in the area, Raisman has become focused on helping people recognize the signs of abuse.

“We actually provide [an abuse prevention] training for adults to take,” Raisman said. “I wished I actually had taken it as a child because I would have been able to recognize and maybe trust my gut more and really be able to have the courage to ask more questions.”

The conversation with Raisman went beyond her activism, with Raisman touching on the importance of healthy body image. She spoke about her own troubles with body image, recounting the stress she endured during her gymnastics career when it came to her weight and diet. 

“I was very much trying to watch what I was eating because there was so much pressure, and I think that made me feel really sick,” she said. “You’re working out sometimes seven hours a day and then also trying to be careful what you’re eating and keep your weight down. It’s a very unhealthy dynamic.”

Additionally, Wilkins asked about Raisman’s Jewish heritage and her status as a “Jewish heroine,” which was significant considering the event was held on the fourth night of Hanukkah. 

Raisman opened up about her heritage and its impact on her family. She was open about the role that her grandmother played in her childhood, along with the rest of her family.

She also reflected on the impact that matching her routine at the 2012 Olympics to “Hava Nagila,” a Jewish folk song, had on the Jewish community. She recalled that shortly after the event, she received an email from her rabbi that told her about a letter he had received from a Holocaust survivor.

“They had told my rabbi that they had never imagined in their life that they would see a young Jewish woman performing a Hava Nagila,” she said. “I’ll never forget [it] and something that really hit home for me of how it’s so much bigger than me.”

Wilkins concluded the event with a simple question: “What’s next for Aly?”

“What I’m really excited about is just relaxing and figuring out what makes me really happy,” Raisman said. “I’m excited to just take time and hopefully recharge soon.”

jschlanger@theeagleonline.com

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