book reviews

Repost: Aly Raisman’s Fierce: How Competing for Myself Changed Everything

Just found this review that I posted on December 9, 2017, when Bill, his mom, and I were visiting Berlin. Since I’m migrating book reviews to this blog, I am sharing it again, as is. Pretend it’s still 2017.

I’m sitting here in snowy Berlin.  Bill and his mom are out taking a walk and I’m enjoying some alone time.  I’ve gotten out of the habit of being around people, so it’s good to have some time to myself.

I know I should go out and enjoy Berlin, but right now it just seems wiser to take some time to relax. Although I bought “premium” Internet access, the net is very slow.  It’s as bad as the “free” access is.  That’s probably the only “ding” I can count against this apartment hotel.  If I pay for faster Internet, I should get it.

This morning, I finished reading 23 year Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman’s book, Fierce: How Competing for Myself Changed Everything.  Although I have never been able to so much as turn a cartwheel myself, I have had a long fascination with women’s gymnastics.  It always amazes me to see gymnasts seemingly doing the impossible with their tiny bodies.  Aly Raisman and her teammates are less than half my age, but they have already accomplished so much.  Besides being an amazing gymnast, Raisman is a leader, having served as captain of the U.S. women’s gymnastics teams in both 2012 and 2016.  I thought her book was well done, too.

Raisman got her start in gymnastics when she was only 18 months old.  Her mother, a former gymnast herself, took baby Aly to a “mommy & me” gymnastics class.  Young Aly proved to be a natural in the sport.

Aly Raisman at the 2016 Olympics.

As Aly grew older, her family grew larger.  Aly is the oldest of four.  Brother Brett was born second, and next came adopted sisters Chloe and Madison, who are also biological sisters to each other.  The family makes their home in Needham, Massachusetts.

One thing that really struck me about Aly’s writing is that she comes across as a very positive person, even though she was one of many gymnasts who was victimized by convicted sex pest, Larry Nassar. Nassar was once the official team doctor for the elite women’s gymnasts, but he recently had a tremendous fall from grace when gymnasts started accusing him of molesting them under the guise of providing care.  Raisman doesn’t provide details about what Nassar did during his “treatments”, which is certainly her prerogative.

Raisman mostly focuses her book on what it took to be an Olympic champion as well as her turn on Dancing With The Stars.  I was very impressed by Raisman’s very upbeat outlook on everything, even as she explains how difficult high level gymnastics is.  She and her very dedicated coach, Mihai Brestyan, worked together to make her the star she is.  When Raisman made the U.S. team, they worked with Martha Karolyi, who is presented in a very positive light in this book.  I have read other gymnast tells alls about the Karolyis and Martha and Bela Karolyi are often presented as extremely tough and even abusive taskmasters.  But Raisman seems to have had a good experience with them.

I was surprised by Raisman’s apparently healthy relationship with food.  She worked with a nutritionist, who helped her get the most out of nutrition, but Raisman also enjoyed her pizza and the occasional candy bar.  I had heard and read so much about how the Karolyis often forced their gymnasts to work out on very little food.  I guess they aren’t as strict now… or maybe they’re only like that with their own gymnasts.  I appreciated Raisman’s candor about her important good nutrition is to powerful performances.

Parts of this book are somewhat negative.  For instance, Raisman writes about her decision to give up her amateur status.  She had been pressured to sign with a college so that she could compete at the collegiate level.  She did sign with the University of Florida, but then changed her mind.  Raisman wrote that the coach basically told her that they expected to see her fail on a challenging vault.  I was interested in Raisman’s comments about college, since until very recently, the University of Florida’s coach was Rhonda Faehn, who was herself an elite gymnast.  I remember watching Faehn when she made the 1988 Olympic team.  The University of Florida’s gymnastics team is now led by Coach Jenny Ester Rowland, who starred in the cheesy 1986 flop, American Anthem.  She played a twelve year old gymnast named Tracy Prescott.

Raisman also has some negative comments about USA Gymnastics.  Apparently, they turned a blind eye to Larry Nassar’s abuses and were neglectful of the athletes.  I had actually read a lot of about some of the less savory aspects of USA Gymnastics.  Nassar was not the only person involved with that sport who was accused of molesting girls.  Former coach Don Peters was also accused of having sexually abusing gymnasts.  I had also read that the organization was very political and some athletes were treated unfairly.

Overall, I think Fierce is a very well-written book that is sure to please gymnastics fans.  Even though I am old enough to be Aly’s mother, I have tremendous admiration for her.  However, looking at pictures of her when she was a little girl make me feel older than dirt!  If you like to read life stories about athletes, I think Raisman’s book is worth the read.

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