Millions around the world watched gymnast Aly Raisman win six Olympic medals (three of them gold) in London 2012 and Rio 2016. But the Fierce Five and Final Five member’s most heroic moment arguably took place in a Lansing, Michigan courtroom this past January. It was there that the decorated athlete, now 24, joined nearly 100 other gymnasts to confront their abuser, former team doctor Larry Nassar, at his sentencing for multiple counts of sexual assault. In an emotional, but clear-eyed and powerful written statement that went viral, Raisman spoke candidly of years of abuse, becoming a #MeToo icon as well as a catalyst for change in gymnastics.
The galvanic moment almost didn’t happen, Raisman tells Refinery29’s global editor-in-chief and cofounder Christene Barberich in a moving new episode of UnStyled. “In the very beginning of the week for the sentencing, I did not want to speak,” she revealed. “I eventually tweeted out that I wasn't going. I felt like it was going to be too much for me.” It was after watching other Nassar survivors – some of them Olympians, others whose careers were cut short by the trauma – share their words in open court that Raisman saw her mission. “I realized in that moment...I didn’t have to feel alone anymore. That this was going to be the start of a sisterhood and an army that was going to fight for change.”
After working diligently on her open letter (with her mom by her side lending support), Raisman braced herself for her day in court. “I felt a combination of pissed-off and nervous to see him, but also [realized] that we were empowered together, being there with each other.”
She continues: “When I started speaking, I remember I locked eyes with Larry Nassar and, for a second, I felt a little bit shaky. I took a second and I was like, ‘I'm not going to be nervous. I'm in control now. He has zero power.’ And I blocked everything out, forgot that there were cameras there and people behind me. I went for it, and right after I finished speaking, I totally collapsed. I was beyond exhausted.”
It was worth it. “The night before and that morning, just working so hard on the speech, and feeling this intensity to do right – by myself, but also speaking on behalf of the survivors the room, the survivors that hadn't come forward yet, but any person out there who's ever been wronged by an organization.”
Raisman says she continues to hear from fans and fellow survivors all the time about their own experiences, with some women and men sharing their traumas for the very first time in their lives. “I did not realize how many people would see this speech in court, [or] how many people would care, how many people would be so supportive,” she tells Barberich.
Raisman – who is now heavily involved in the anti-child abuse nonprofit Darkness To Light – adds in the chat that the #MeToo movement (and its victims and aggressors), of course, goes far beyond Hollywood, gymnastics and high-profile celebrities. “It doesn’t matter if you are a well-known person... abuse is everywhere… That has been very hard, just to see how many people out there are really suffering. Abuse isn't just something in the moment. It carries with you for the rest of your life.”
Listen to Aly and Christene’s entire discussion, click here and subscribe to UnStyled via Apple Podcasts today.