Powerful On the Beam or Off

Aly Raisman gives her victim impact statement during the fourth day of sentencing for former sports doctor Larry Nassar, who pled guilty to multiple counts of sexual assault. (Dale G. Young/Detroit News via AP, File)

Aly Raisman is a world-class gymnast with six medals from two different Olympic Games. She’s also a survivor of abuse at the hands of Larry Nassar, the now-disgraced Michigan State doctor who assaulted hundreds of young athletes. In a profile for ESPN, Mina Kimes looks at Aly the athlete, and Aly the newfound activist.

When she speaks at colleges, men and women come up to her and share their stories of assault, sometimes for the first time. Afterward, she often wakes up in the middle of the night, restless and despondent. “A lot of people, a lot of survivors, come to me for advice on what to do,” she says. “I’m very honest with them, because I’m not an authority, I’m not somebody that can hold their abuser accountable. I wish I was.”

Raisman is quick to assert that while she never expected to be an activist, she’s grateful that people are listening — but admits the burden weighs on her. Often, when she speaks, she’ll stop and edit herself; at one point in our conversation, she grabs paper and starts furiously taking notes. She’s deeply fearful of getting something wrong, of committing the rhetorical equivalent of a slip off the balance beam. “There are so many people out there that are survivors, but there are few that have a voice,” she says. “I know that I’m one of the few that are being heard, so I just want to do right by people.”

When we’re done talking, I ask if I can see her notes, and she gives them to me before she leaves. Feel pressure to help everyone, she had written, but it’s so hard since I’m still processing myself.

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