Aly Raisman Aims High at the Olympics
BY JESSICA LANIEWSKI
Anyone who doubts that the world of gymnastics is all about competition needs to look no further than Aly Raisman. The polite 18-year-old has had her eye on one goal for the last few years: to medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. “It is the one time when the entire world comes together,” says Raisman, who competes on bars, beam, the floor, and vault. “I want to do well in representing the US and myself.”
The Needham native is expected to do far better than well at the Olympics after a decade-plus of focused training. Raisman may have just graduated from high school, but she has no shortage of experience, having been introduced to gymnastics by her mother, Lynn, before age two.
“I knew I wanted to pursue gymnastics at a high level by the time I was in the fourth grade,” recalls Raisman, who is recognized as one of the best tumblers in the world. “I had to choose between soccer and gymnastics and always had the patience and mind-set for the latter, as it requires a rigorous six days a week of training.” The secret to Raisman’s success is simple hard work. She attests that she has to be completely focused at all times, whether it’s an early morning of conditioning or an afternoon of perfecting her vault routine.
While she may run through her floor program six times a day, endurance training is also a large part of her daily regimen. Raisman’s coach, Mihai Brestyan, is known for his strong athletes, including 2008 Olympian and Winchester native Alicia Sacramone. He focuses Raisman on running, tumbling, and being able to lift her body weight, the most important principle in gymnastics. Raisman has built her strength to powerhouse levels and spent the past few months cleaning up her form and improving her flexibility and agility for the Olympics.
The eldest of four children, including a brother and two sisters, she sets an example that makes her parents marvel. “It is really a group effort,” says Raisman, when asked about her parents’ help. “They actually found my program music on YouTube.” The music Raisman refers to is “Hava Nagila,” the Hebrew folk song that’s a staple at Jewish weddings, which she uses for her floor program. Raisman went to Needham High School through junior year and recently completed her senior year online. “Being a gymnast helps me with my schoolwork because I work harder at it. I put in 100 percent effort all the time, and I never procrastinate,” says Raisman. During this pivotal time for most high school students, she had held on to some sense of normalcy and even attended Needham’s 2012 prom.
The gymnast’s mental and physical strength helped her become a three-year member of the US National Gymnastic Team, and she placed third in all-around competition and on the floor at the 2011 US Nationals. “The vault took me a little longer to perfect than I hoped it would,” says Raisman. “Getting the confidence and the mental outlook was even harder.” And you certainly can’t blame the gymnast whose vault routine includes tongue-tying maneuvers such as a two-anda- half twisting Yurchenko.
Raisman muses that gymnastics will always be part of her life, and she hopes to combine that with another passion—fashion. As one of the Olympic athletes sponsored by Ralph Lauren, she can foresee herself designing clothing, including leotards, when she is no longer landing round-offs. For now Raisman is focusing all her hope and effort on making the climb to the top of the Olympic podium. “I’ve never worked harder,” says Raisman. “I want to make sure I have no regrets.”
photography by adam pretty/getty images