By Maggie O’Brien ’17
Another successful Relay For Life event took place on Friday, April 7 at Merrimack College and was well attended by students, faculty, survivors, and Olympian gymnast, Aly Raisman.
As part of Merrimack’s President’s Speaker Series, Raisman participated in a question and answer style discussion with Women’s and Gender Studies professor, Debra Michals.
Raisman, who has been touched by cancer before, explained that this was her first time at Relay For Life. In 2011, her grandmother lost her fight to breast cancer. Heartbroken, she knew that she had to do something to help. She dedicated many performances to her grandmother and recently visited Dana Farber Cancer Institute to honor her even further. She took her dad along with her to spend a day meeting with and getting to know lung cancer patients of all ages.
After her time spent there, she partnered with Bridgestone to donate $10,000 to Dana Farber’s efforts in finding a cure. “I think everyone knows someone with cancer,” she reflected. “It’s hard.”
The main focus though seemed to be that of Raisman’s gymnastics career. Raisman recalled that she was actually not always the best. There were many competitions in which she placed low or not at all. It was not until she was about 15 that she really found the confidence and realized what she was truly capable of.
“I think you have to be told “no” in order to have that fire to be better,” Raisman said. And that is exactly what fueled her. In the months leading up to the 2016 Olympic Games, she was often called “Grandma” by the media. She ignored their slander and showed them who was boss when she finally had that second gold medal proudly hung around her neck.
“Relay is one of my favorite campus events,” said senior Hannah Lee. “Being able to see Aly Raisman speak this year was really cool. As a gymnast, she’s always been someone who’s inspired me. I really look up to her.”
In addition, Raisman revealed that she is planning to compete in the next Olympics event. In the meantime, Raisman is doing a lot of work to shatter the stereotypes that women face daily. She has partnered with Playtex in doing so.
“There’s a lot of pressure for girls to have a perfect presence on social media,” she explained. “It brings up a lot of insecurities.” Raisman is using her voice to shine a light on this issue to reassure girls that they can be who they want to be, not who everyone else wants them to be.
After the Q and A portion of the night, Raisman took the time to meet with a group of students, faculty, and all of the survivors. They got photos and autographs with the two-time Olympian. “She was very sincere when thanking us for inviting her,” said senior Relay for Life Event Chair Meghan Ramsey.