Aly Raisman has won six Olympic medals and was captain of both the 2012 “Fierce Five” and 2016 “Final Five” women’s Olympic gymnastics teams. Needless to say, the 23-year-old has a lock on mental toughness. “Being a female athlete has taught me that strong doesn’t just mean physically strong. It means being mentally tough as well,” she says. “Sometimes the mental aspect of the sport is even tougher than the physical aspect.”
Despite her impressive skills, Raisman admits she’s been the target of bullies. “I was made fun of a lot for my muscles and for being too strong,” she says. “I’ve always had insecurities about the way I looked, but I remind myself that my body is a tool and it helped me to become one of the best gymnasts in the world.
Tuning out negativity
One of the most challenging aspects of her sport — scoring — has actually helped her fine-tune her mental toughness. “In my sport, we are always judged and critiqued, so I learned that when I’m not in the gym, I can’t worry what others think of me the same way I worry about what the judges think of me. It took me a long time to learn this, because I always want to please people and make sure that everyone likes me. That’s impossible. You can’t please everyone. No one can. I learned that the key to life is to be happy, and if you’re happy, you can be successful.”
Being able to look up to other successful women in the field of gymnastics also had a huge impact on Raisman. “The 1996 Olympic gymnastics team was my favorite,” she says. “They were so fierce and strong! It was my dream to wear a red, white and blue leotard!”
She also found role models closer to home. “Having teammates and friends who understand what you’re going through is so important,” she says. “A lot of times, I felt like I was alone and no one understood me, because my training was so intense. Having the support of your teammates, who are going through the same things, helps you overcome your struggles and figure out ways to grow as an athlete and a person. The support of people around you is crucial. You can’t do it alone.”
Liane Bonin Starr, [email protected]