Aly Raisman Says Her 'Body Has Never Felt the Same' Since the 2016 Olympics

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In the years leading up to the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics - and during the Games themselves - gymnast Aly Raisman recalls that she only spent her days doing three things: eating, sleeping, and exercising. "It was really exhausting and it was like everything was about gymnastics," she tells Shape. "There's a lot of pressure and I just remember being scared all along."
The strict cure was basically free of rest days. During the Games, Raisman says that she and her teammates typically trained twice a day, and on occasion they only had one practice - what was considered a "day off." Cat naps were Raisman's most important recovery tool, but it wasn't easy to give yourself the R&R you need between successive competitions and workouts. “When you're [physically] tired, sometimes you get mentally tired too,” she says. "You're not that confident and you just don't feel like yourself. I think one of the things that isn't talked about much is that the hardest part is feeling rested and preparing for competition."
To make matters worse, Raisman didn't have enough resources to take care of her mental health, and she also didn't know how much she was struggling with it, she explains. "After training I received various treatments, but I didn't understand that I had to take care of the mental part - not just freezing my foot when I had an ankle injury," says the six-time Olympic champion. “I think the more athletes come out, the more opportunities there are for other athletes to be [mentally] supported, but there really wasn't much for us… I wish I had more of the tools I have now. "(One athlete currently raising her concern: Naomi Osaka.)
While the end of the games was always accompanied by a big sigh of relief and some downtime, says Raisman, who officially quit gymnastics in 2020, says her burnout still hasn't completely gone. "I still feel like my body has never felt like this since I started training for the 2016 Olympics," she says. “I think I was so busy - and there were so many other factors besides the training I was doing - so now I'm just trying to give myself time to relax and rest. It's definitely a process. ”(In 2017, Raisman and other gymnasts got in touch, announcing that they had been sexually assaulted by former USA Gymnastics Doctor Larry Nassar.)
These days, Raisman is taking it easy on the fitness front, focusing on stretching, going for sunset walks, and seldom doing Pilates - a 180 degree turn from the grueling routine of her gymnastics career. "I can't do Pilates every day as much as I want just because I don't have the physical stamina to do it," she says. "But Pilates has helped me a lot with my training and also mentally because I like how I can focus on different parts of my body and it helps me to feel stronger and more confident."
Even if Raisman didn't get the support she needed throughout her gymnastics career, she makes sure that the next generation does. This summer she is working as an exercise program designer at Woodward Camp, where she trains young athletes and helps redesign the exercise program. “It was really fun and great to be able to interact with the kids - some of them remind me of myself when I was younger,” says Raisman. Outside of sports, Raisman also works with Olay, who inspires 1,000 girls to explore STEM careers with Million Women Mentors to spread the word about mentoring. "I'm very inspired by people trying to change the world, and I think being able to bring more women into this world is so crucial," she added.
Also on Raisman's agenda: figuring out who she is outside of gymnastics, how to become the best version of herself, and the exact exercises that will give her the energy and stress relief she needs, she explains. The Olympian is still working on the first two existential questions, but so far turning off the TV and reading in the bathtub before bed, cutting sugar out of her diet, and spending time with her pup Mylo for the latter has done the trick. "I think when I feel more relaxed I'm more of myself, so I'm just trying to figure out how to get there more consistently."
In this article:
Aly Raisman
American gymnast

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