Aly Raisman, winner of 11 gold medals and the most decorated American gymnast at the 2012 Olympics in London, is known for her strength and ferocity. So it's no surprise that she was able to unflinchingly confront the man she says sexually abused her, former Team USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, during his sentencing on Friday. But she says it wasn't easy: Raisman described how facing Nassar felt Thursday on TODAY, saying it reminded her of the Olympics.
"In that moment, I almost felt like I was going to compete," she told TODAY host Hoda Kotb. "Because at the Olympics, you block everything out, and in that moment, I blocked out everything. I forgot that people were watching me, I forgot the media was over there, I forgot that Larry was right there. ... I just spoke, and I felt like I really had to be strong."
Raisman radiated strength during her testimony, inspiring the world with a steady, tough statement that not only condemned Nassar, but also held Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics responsible for enabling him to allegedly molest more than a hundred young girls over two decades. But Raisman said that burst of adrenaline depleted when she left the stand, as she told Kotb.
After, I will be honest, I was sick. I almost passed out. I had the worst headache for hours. Even since then — I still don't feel good now. ... It's hard to put into words, but it makes me literally sick, all the stress and the trauma of everything. For that moment, I had to be strong. But I'm very, very exhausted from it.
In response to a plea Nassar had written to the judge, Raisman said in her testimony, "Imagine feeling like you have no power and no voice." (Nassar had asked the judge to be excused from hearing his survivors' testimonies, claiming that it was harmful to his mental health.) "Well, you know what, Larry, I have both power and voice, and I am only beginning to just use them."
All these brave women have power, and we will use our voices to make sure you get what you deserve — a life of suffering spent replaying the words delivered by this powerful army of survivors.
"At the Olympics, you block everything out, and in that moment, I blocked out everything."
Many demonstrators at the Women's Marches around the country this weekend used Raisman's words to make their signs. In the TODAY interview, Kotb showed images of signs that had been inspired by her, including one that just read, "What Aly Raisman Said."
A total of 156 women read statements during Nassar's trial, but Raisman's gained particular traction and went viral over the past week. She's one of the best-known women to accuse Nassar of abuse, and her celebrity transformed her into the face of his case. She's been taking well to this position of leadership — but then again, she's used to it. The USA Olympic gymnastics team voted twice to make her their team captain.
Some of Raisman's former teammates have also accused Nassar of sexual assault. Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, and Jordyn Wieber came forward with allegations, too: They were all part of the famous "Fierce Five" team led by Raisman at the 2012 London Olympics. (Only one member of that group has not accused Nassar of molestation.) He was the official doctor for all female gymnasts at the Olympics that year.
Raisman seems determined to use the influence she's built to change the culture of sexual assault in the gymnastics world and beyond. "I'm very passionate about creating change and making sure that abuse never happens," she expressed in her TODAY interview, and said that she was inspired by the compassionate response she's received from the public — just as women around the country have been inspired by her.
"I never, ever imagined this kind of support in my wildest dreams," Raisman said. "I can't thank everyone enough for the support, and it only motivates me to do even more."