Best known for her accomplishments inside the gym, since her retirement from the sport Aly Raisman has made strides to leave a different kind of legacy in gymnastics. Besides her six Olympic medals, four World Championships medals, and numerous other successes, Raisman wants the sport to remember her for the change she created within it.
Many gymnasts know that a cultural shift is happening in the sport. Raisman steps up, time and time again, to use her platform to be a source of positivity and connection in the community.
Mental Health Advocacy
A long time advocate for the importance of recognizing mental health and ending the stigma surrounding it, Raisman recently partnered with Sanvello, an app for mental health. The app offers digital mental health services, including coaching and therapy, and Raisman encourages people to use the app to find the services that are right for them.
“Together, we want to encourage help-seeking behavior and improve the mental health care experience so more people around the world can take small steps to feel better,” Raisman told UnitedHealth Group. She praised the app on Twitter, saying that by sharing her emotions, she can connect with others.
1. There have been many times throughout my life where I have felt scared that I would never feel better, that I would always feel so anxious. Thankfully, as I continue to be open about it, more people reach out to me to share their own stories, reminding me that I am not alone.— Alexandra Raisman (@Aly_Raisman) October 10, 2020
Often going unaddressed, mental health is an issue in gymnastics. Young children are under immense pressure competing in a sport that has such a difficult mental component to it, including mental blocks. Sports therapy is slowly becoming more popular in gymnastics, but there is still often a stigma surrounding it.
Raisman wants to break down that stigma and starts by talking frequently about her own mental health in the public spotlight. On Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast, she shared her experiences with OCD (Obsessive-compulsive disorder). On social media, she opened up about her experience with PTSD (Post-traumatic syndrome disorder). She recently spoke about mental health on Good Morning America, offering tips to improve your mental health.
Fighting Against Sexual Abuse
Raisman’s advocacy for young gymnasts doesn’t end with fighting for recognizing the importance of mental health within and outside the sport. Because of her experiences and those of her teammates, she is passionate about fighting to make the sport a safer place for all gymnasts, starting with a program to stop athletes from experiencing sexual abuse.
Raisman is the face of #FlipTheSwitch, a program that works towards ending sexual abuse against children by giving out a free training program to all youth coaches. This free program is aimed at coaches and parents who may not recognize how to spot the signs of sexual abuse. Raisman adds an extra incentive to take the training by signing every certificate of course completion. The goal of the program is to have every adult involved in youth sports complete the training.
#FlipTheSwitch 42 million Americans are survivors of child sexual abuse. We MUST change that horrifying number. I urge u to go to https://t.co/C3tnm0hw4W. U have the power to make change. Here is my certificate of completion (Will personally sign yours if U complete the program!) pic.twitter.com/bHhgiF1m0k— Alexandra Raisman (@Aly_Raisman) March 9, 2018
Aligning With Gymnasts Across The Globe
Many gymnasts in the sport recently spoke out about experiencing mental and emotional abuse in the sport from coaches. Raisman frequently uses her social media to uplift these stories and voices, so the world can hear the experiences of these athletes. She often uses the hashtag #gymnastalliance to promote these and keep them all in one place.
I had also mentioned in the interview that there needs to be a complete INDEPENDENT investigation to figure out what happened & how & who knew what when etc. SO IMPORTANT. We can’t believe in real change unless we understand what happened & why. https://t.co/bfglIMPn8H— Alexandra Raisman (@Aly_Raisman) October 7, 2020
These stories of abuse within the sport come from not only Elite gymnasts in the U.S., but gymnasts around the globe, and extending to the NCAA as well. The #gymnastalliance works to unite all these stories, no matter where a survivor comes from or what level they are at, to change the culture of silence in the sport.
#gymnastalliance is powerful & heartbreaking. If u are like me reading the posts may bring up a lot, u may feel validated, less alone, triggered or something different. However u feel is valid. Ur mental health is important. Take care of yourself. Ask for help if u need/want it— Alexandra Raisman (@Aly_Raisman) July 29, 2020
For a long time, mentally and emotionally abusive coaching methods were acceptable so long as they produced champions, but many retired and current gymnasts like Raisman are looking to shed light on the subject. These gymnasts believe no coach should be able to get away with abuse of any kind.
Working With Aerie Towards Body Positivity Representation
Many gymnasts deal with negative body image issues due to the focus on the perfect body and weight in the sport. Wearing a leotard and performing in front of judges who are looking for certain lines often can lead gymnasts down a path of body shaming.
Raisman speaks about the difficulty of positive body image for all people, not only gymnasts.
#AerieREAL Role Model Aly Raisman is making moves in her OFFLINE by Aerie pieces! Head to #AerieREAL Life to see how Aly is styling her faves and why she loves the collection. Read more: https://t.co/pDPsRnlY7C pic.twitter.com/NiXMHsYug4— Aerie (@Aerie) October 24, 2020
Now she is a spokesperson and model at Aerie, a company that features models of different shapes and sizes. In Aerie’s campaigns, she frequently talks about loving the body you’re in and speaks out against companies retouching their models because it creates unrealistic expectations for viewers.
Through her advocacy on multiple topics, it’s clear that Raisman’s efforts are finding her a space in gymnastics history not only as a great athlete but as an advocate for a better future for young gymnasts. This work is not only changing the gymnastics world but extends to other youth sports and girls and women all around the globe, even those who are not in sports.