We spoke to Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman when the gold medalist was in Manhattan recently. Not only is she a star gymnast, but she was also the captain of the 2012 and 2016 U.S. Olympic women’s teams. She also competed on “Dancing with the Stars.”
Who or what kept you going during gymnastics?
Well, I always loved it, and I think the most important thing when you’re competing or when you’re doing something as much as you’re doing is, you have to love it. So that was what kept me going even on the hard days. . . . I knew that I wanted to go to the Olympics so bad.
Were you ever discouraged during your gymnastics career?
Yes. There are plenty of days I was, believe it or not. The majority of the time I got discouraged because I was such a perfectionist, and there are only five girls who make the Olympic team, so I was always very nervous — but that was what motivated me to keep working hard. And you also have to remember that not everything in life is perfect. And sometimes it gets hard, but then it gets really good. So before you succeed, you have to struggle a little bit because you have to learn from it.
What event do you find most nerve-racking or challenging in the Olympics?
I would say my vault and bars were the most challenging because I was so afraid of it. I was so scared of bars. And then when you’re really tired or you don’t feel good, beam is scary, too, because if your balance is off, you are on a 4-inch-wide beam. But I mean, I just worked really hard so that by the time the competition came, I felt really confident.
Do you have a favorite food that isn’t like a gymnast diet?
I think it’s really important to splurge when you want to, because I think part of being healthy is having a balanced diet, so it’s about eating healthy to have energy. But then if you want to have some chocolate cake or dessert, then that’s great to have that, too. But I love chocolate cake, that’s my favorite. So I would have that, you know, whenever. I wouldn’t have it every single night because it’s not healthy. But I would have it when I wanted it. Do you guys like ice cream? I love ice cream, too.
What advice would you give to younger athletes to keep them inspired?
I would say to always remember that sometimes it gets hard — not everything is perfect. But if you work very hard at it, and you love it, then I think everything always ends up working out. Even if it doesn’t work out in that sport, it will lead you or guide you somewhere else.
We’ve heard that your teammates called you “Grandma.” What do you think of that?
I thought it was funny. They call me “Grandma” because I got a lot of sleep at night, which I think is really important. Every single day I would make sure I got enough sleep at night, because I think that’s the most important thing — that you’re eating healthy and that you’re getting a good night’s sleep, and then you can train.
If you look at old videos of yourself doing gymnastics, do you ever critique your form?
Yeah, of course. I have watched myself, but I never liked to watch myself if I don’t have a good competition because it just — I only like to keep positive thoughts in my head. Because I have the thought in my head that I fell, so when I re-watch something, I watch myself doing a good job, so that’s in my head for the next competition. So if you have a mistake, for the next competition, you have to move forward and push that aside and think positive thoughts of how you can fix it and how you can get better.
After being such a good success in gymnastics, what do you have planned for your future?
I’m not sure what I have planned for my future, but I’m lucky to be very busy and doing a lot of fun stuff, so I think that I’m just excited for all these cool opportunities.
We’ve heard that your mother was a gymnast in high school. Did she have a big impact on your life?
She did in high school, and I think she always was a big fan of the sport. My dad did hockey and baseball, so they wanted me to do sports, but they put me in everything and I chose gymnastics because I loved it.
Do you have any regrets from choosing a career in gymnastics over a normal teenage life?
No, because I loved it. Yeah, I loved it, and I think it’s led me to where I am today. I think as far as regretting things, I think everything happens for a reason, so I don’t think it’s worth regretting it because I think you can always learn from things.
Who in your life really supports you the most?
I would say my parents, because they always help me through the tough days. It wasn’t always easy, but they were always there for me.
When you get the chance, are you going to stay close to your parents, if you have your own house or go farther away?
You know, I would like to stay close to my parents, because I’m very close with them.