“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right,” said six-time Olympic medalist Aly Raisman to a packed Statler Auditorium Wednesday night. The 22-year-old of Needham, Mass. — invited as a part of the Cornell Hillel Major Speaker Series — addressed topics that ranged from her Olympic experiences to her favorite Jewish holiday, Hanukkah.
Raisman, whose gymnastics career began at age two in mommy-and-me classes, stressed the importance of family both in her life and in Judaism.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re the most famous person in the world, it doesn’t matter how much money you make,” she said. “If you don’t have family, if you don’t have people supporting you and loving you, it really doesn’t matter.”
In 2012, Raisman won a gold medal in the floor exercise, which she performed to the famed Jewish hymn Hava Nagila. Video of Raisman’s routine went viral, amassing thousands of clicks around the Jewish community and beyond. Raisman said that it took her some time to fully grasp the impression her olympic success left on her religion.
“When I was younger I didn’t really realize the impact that I had on the Jewish community around the world,” she admitted. “I had really no idea until after the 2012 Olympics. I obviously realized I was representing the U.S., but I had no idea the meaning that it meant to the Jewish community, so it was really, really special.”
Raisman also took a break from discussing gymnastics and Judaism to impart her words of wisdom to the audience. Gold medals are nice, Raisman said, but the benefits of being a good person are better.
“People might forget years from now what place someone got or how many medals someone has,” she said. “But I think people will always remember you for the kind of person that you are.”
Raisman, who is just one medal shy of tying Shannon Miller for most olympic medals acquired by a U.S. female gymnast in Olympic history, could be remembered for both.
In a room filled with students attending one of the most competitive universities in the country, Raisman reminded attendees that though “it’s totally normal to be competitive … being the best that you can be and the best version of yourself [is] all you can ask for.”
Raisman was also open about her own insecurities and how social media can exacerbate them.
“I think a lot of times the media likes to portray things like everything is perfect,” Raisman said. “It’s just there’s such a misconception [on social media] that everyone’s life looks so much more perfect than it is. So I would say that I’m just like everyone else, I’m human. There are obviously days where I feel insecure, where I don’t feel like I’m good.”
While she does plan to vie for a spot on what would be her third Olympic team in 2020, Raisman said that she will be taking the next few months off to rest and recover. In the meantime, she will be pursuing other ventures, like advocating for positive body image and equal gender rights.
“My goal would be to change the younger generation so it’s less of a focus on who can take a good selfie and instead who can be a good person, who can be smart, who can be intelligent,” she said. “I don’t know how I’m going to do that yet, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot because I think it’s really important.”