Going for gold
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Going for gold

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Aly Raisman

There are some things that most of us never have and never will experience. We can imagine what it would feel like, but we never will really know.

One of those things has to be entering a huge arena and jumping, dancing, twirling, flying, seemingly beyond gravity’s pull. For about a minute and a half. To music. In front of thousands of people, clapping for you, and tens of millions more sitting in their living rooms all across the world watching you. Judging you. At the Olympics.

You’re very young when you do this – just 18. It’s the Summer Games in London last summer. You do very well in all your competitions – and you get the gold in your last one, the floor program. You are the first American woman to do this. You also win a bronze medal for your work on the balance beam. You are also the team captain, and the whole team wins the overall gold, as well.

This is all hard to imagine, but Alexandra Raisman – Aly to her multitude of fans – pulled it off.

There’s more. Raisman is Jewish, and she performed to Hava Nagilah, that mainstay of b’nai mitzvah celebrations across the Jewish world.

“I chose the floor music because it’s just one of those songs that everybody loves, and Jewish people around the world can relate to,” she said in a phone interview with the Rockland Jewish Standard. “It’s a fun, uplifting song that people can clap to.”

And how does it feel when everyone claps?

“When you’re in your routine, you’re really focused, but at the same time, you hear it, and it gives you that adrenaline rush and a great push.

“By the end of your routine, you’re really tired, so it pushes you and gives you that extra boost of confidence,” she said.

Raisman is coming to the women’s philanthropy division of the Jewish Federation of Rockland County on May 29. She will begin by meeting VIPs at 6 p.m.; dinner, the program, and an auction will follow, beginning at 7 p.m., all at Town & Country in Congers.

Her connection with Rockland began long before she agreed to speak at the dinner, though. The campaign for a moment of silence to mark the 40th anniversary of the Munich Olympic massacre, when 11 Israeli athletes were murdered by terrorists as the games drew to a close, began there. The International Olympic Committee refused the request for the memorial, as it has refused that request and every other request to honor the dead athletes for the last 40 years.

Raisman dedicated her win to the murdered Israelis. “I thought that they obviously deserved the minute of silence, and I wanted to make it happen.” She hadn’t gone to the Olympics with that plan in mind, though; “It was a spur of the moment kind of thing.”

Since last summer, she has heard from Israeli soldiers, she said. “I met a few of them. It was a true honor. It was really amazing and exciting, and really cool.

“They said that they had watched me and were really inspired by me. It meant a lot to me. I would never expect to hear that from an Israeli soldier.”

Raisman, who is from Needham, a suburb of Boston, is going to Israel for the first time this summer. “I’m going to be the ambassador to the Maccabiah Games,” she said. “My whole family is going to come. It will be an amazing and exciting experience.”

Raisman is not training now, or at least not training as she had until the Olympics. Instead, she is featured on “Dancing With the Stars.”

“I don’t have time for regular training, but dancing is my training now,” she said. It’s hard work.

Her plans for the future have not yet coalesced, beyond her desire to keep up her gymnastics. She graduated from high school and now is taking classes at a local college. “Yes, of course, I will go to college, but I haven’t figured it out how yet,” she said. “Dancing With the Stars” is taking over most of her time right now. “I’m kind of taking it one day at a time,” she said.

Looking back at the Olympics, “what I can say about the whole experience was how much of an honor it was to represent the USA,” she said. “How much dedication I put into it.”

She will be talking to women – mothers, daughters, and grandmothers – about the necessity of following your dream. “It’s so important,” she said.

“You have to never give up. It’s not always easy. It’s not always fun. But if you find what you love to do, you have to do it. You must never give it up.

“It’s so important to have a dream,” Raisman said.

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