Local gold medalists Raisman and Harrison reflect on post-Olympic life
“I have only seen him for like 20 minutes in the past two weeks, so I told him to just come with me!”
That’s what 22-year-old Olympic gold medalist Kayla Harrison told the crew as she arrived for her PSA shoot and subsequent interview with She’s Game Sports, boyfriend in tow. She was shooting a PSA for local charity, Horizons for Homeless Children, and after hearing her talk about her schedule, it was clear that one thing she does not have very much of is time.
Harrison is the first American to ever win a gold medal in the sport of Judo at the Olympics, and it is obvious that her work ethic has not just translated on the mats but also in her approach professionally and philanthropically. As a woman in her early twenties, she carries herself with maturity beyond her years; something that probably isn’t so surprising considering he is currently one of the most famous Olympians in the country.
Just an hour later, 18-year-old Olympic gymnastics gold medalist Aly Raisman came by to share her name and voice for the PSA and then sit down for SGS as well.
“Kayla was here?! Aw I just missed her, I was stuck in traffic,” Raisman said.
Apparently for young adults who have been training since they could walk and are now American superstar athletes with Olympic gold medals, it’s easy to become friends.
Birds of a feather and all that.
Now role models for athletes around the world, these native Bostonian women have seen their lives change dramatically in the past seven months. Although it’s been an amazing journey for both of them, it’s also been a major adjustment as well.
Harrison competes in a sport that really only reaches American audiences on a large scale every four years at the Olympics, so the change witnessed was all the more drastic.
“I think the biggest thing that has changed for me personally is my bubble” Harrison said. “It used to be the judo community … it was a very small world that I lived in. Since the Olympics, my world has expanded exponentially. The people that I am able to impact and the reach that I’m able to have has grown. That’s definitely a big change for me — but a welcome change.”
Raisman has felt similar changes in her lifestyle, a far cry from the life of a normal teen in suburban Needham, Mass.
“I guess the main difference is I was training seven hours a day before the Olympics and now I’m traveling, going places for appearances,” said Raisman. “Whether it’s signing autographs or giving speeches, I never thought I would be giving speeches at places.”
Just like Harrison though, the changes are certainly welcome for Raisman.
“My life has definitely changed but it’s been an amazing experience. All the amazing opportunities I’ve gotten to have, it’s been really special,” Raisman said.
Through all of the craziness, it’s hard to imagine that these women would have time to stop and breathe, let alone be home shooting local PSAs, but for both Harrison and Raisman, their hometowns have become havens of familiarity and comfort. Both said they realize the value of helping out locally.
“Boston is so important to me,” Raisman said. “They’ve been so supportive throughout this entire experience. I really love how Boston is such a huge sports town. It’s so fun. I just always feel like I’m at home when I’m here. It just really means a lot to me and I really appreciate it.”
Harrison said she is also feeling the love.
“The New England and Boston area has really just taken me in and made me one of their own. I travel pretty much every weekend now, but it’s always nice to know that I have a nice place to go home to and it makes you extremely grateful.”
Both girls also talked about how they actually feel closer and more connected to the community now that they spend so much time away and have seen some many other places.
“Sometimes when you go to these events or when you travel to give speeches or go for foundations and fundraising events, you know it’s shocking to see the rest of the world and some of the levels of poverty,” Harrison explained. “So to be able to come home and call this beautiful place mine, it is very special to me so I don’t take it for granted. I go for a trip and then I come home and I get my coffee and everyone knows my name and everyone says hi. So I definitely feel closer to home and it’s a good feeling to have that anchor. ”
Since all of Raisman’s friends are all in their own transition stage from high school to college, Raisman said she also feels the kinship when she’s back.
“I definitely feel closer so when I come home, it’s really special to just feel like everything’s normal again,” Raisman said. “I was home for a few weeks for the first time since May and all my school friends were home. They’re all in college now and they all treat me so normal, so it’s really nice to have their support.”
Still, as normal as Harrison and Raisman said they feel around their family, friends and community, they also said they are reminded frequently that they are much more than normal women to young girls and athletes around the country.
Both said they take their status as role models very seriously.
“It means a lot to me,” said Raisman. “I train with a lot of young girls at my gym, so just seeing the way they look up to me, it means a lot. I remember being that little girl that just wanted to be just like the girls I watched on TV. So I definitely take the role of being a role model very seriously.”
For Harrison, being a role model is something she wasn’t necessarily prepared for, but she said she now embraces it as much as Raisman does.
“You know, I’ve spent my entire life dreaming of winning Olympic gold,” Harrison said. “The problem is, no one prepares you for what happens once that gold medal goes around your neck.
“And yes, is it stressful at times? Absolutely. Do I feel pressure? Of course. I think that I would be crazy if I didn’t feel some sense of pressure. But at the end of the day I know that it’s a pressure that I can handle and it’s a pressure that I asked for and I consider it a huge honor.”
So now that Kayla Harrison and Aly Raisman have achieved the pinnacle successes in their sport, what do they have planned for the future?
The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, of course!
“I’ve decided to go for four more years,” Harrison said. “I mean who doesn’t want to go to Rio right? I just started training again in January. I’m honestly so excited to be back on the mat. It feels so good have some sense of normalcy in my life again.”
“I am excited to begin training again. It’s been enough time where I really am getting that fire back. I definitely will be training for the Olympics in Rio. I’m really excited about it. I’ve even been daydreaming about it again.”
And while both are gold medalists, these two athletes said they still have plenty left to compete for.
“I still have more goals, so I’m excited,” Raisman said.
“I really feel that as an athlete, my next four years could be my best four years,” Harrison said.
It seems that for elite athletes the old golden rule about potato chips applies to gold medals as well: you can’t have just a few.