Hometown shows pride for gymnast Aly Raisman, Olympic gold medalist
There will be big fanfare when Aly Raisman comes home next week as her town’s first ever Olympic medalist.
Officials, friends and family in Needham, Mass., aren’t sure if it’ll be a parade or some other event, but they’re already planning something big when Raisman brings home the gold.
“We will definitely find some good ways to recognize her,” said Board of Selectman Chairman Jerry Wasserman.
On Tuesday, as Raisman led the U.S. gymnastics team to first place in the women’s team final at the 2012 London Olympics, a gym filled with aspiring young gymnasts paused its summer camp activities, turned off the lights and put up an improvised projection screen.
They watched as she performed the final scored event of the day, after the second-place Russian team and U.S. teammates Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber completed their floor routines.
When Raisman stuck the final landing, campers at Exxcel Gymnastics & Climbing in Newton, Mass. — the gym where Raisman trained from 1999 to 2004 — went crazy.
“It could be anyone,” said Maggie Nieto, 16, from Needham. “It’s so cool to see that. She’s the talk of the town.”
“I just wanna point out to everyone, ‘That’s Aly! She’s from Needham!’” said Emily Stoller, 9, also from Needham.
Melissa McManus, the team director at Exxcel, said seeing Raisman grow from a young gymnast to an Olympian helped give inspiration to future athletes.
“It’s great to see when everything goes full circle. It could be one of them in 8 years,” she said. “She was always the underdog. But she always knew she would do it, come back a world champion.”
McManus babysat for Raisman once, and Optional Girls Team Director Alex Toumilovich acted as her coach while she was at Exxcel.
“This not only brings our grade together, it brings our whole town and country together,” said Corina Andriescu, a friend and the president of Raisman’s graduating class of 2012 at Needham High School. “I’m just excited for her to come back.”
Every time Raisman comes back home, people are amazed at her poise and humility, said Andriescu, who has known Raisman since the sixth grade.
“The thing that surprises me most is she has always been so modest. She talks to people, she cares about them, saying stuff like, ‘Remember math class in eighth grade?” she said.
But Raisman needs to compete in the women’s all-around final on Thursday, for which she and Gabby Douglas qualified, and move on to individual events the following week before returning home.
Wasserman said that while Raisman’s gold medal symbolized “the pinnacle of hard work, discipline and level headedness,” there might be even more medals to come.
“Primarily, it’s a great credit to her and her family. As part of the town, I’m very proud that someone who grew up in the town accomplished something like that, and has the possibility of maybe more,” he said.
“Aly Raisman is the first person to make it anywhere near where she is,” said town historian Gloria Gries. “This is a historical moment, not only for her but for the town, for the high school, for everyone.”
The only other time Needham sent athletes to the Olympics, Gries said, was to the 1936 Berlin games. The five athletes failed to make it past any qualifying rounds.
“Whenever you have an individual like [Raisman], it focuses town pride. All of the sudden, everyone’s heard of Needham,” she said.
On Wednesday night, during NBC’s tape-delayed broadcast, Raisman’s great aunt, Reva Devore, held a viewing party for friends and family.
“I saw the video of [Aly’s parents] Lynn and Rick shifting in their seats. I felt the same way when I was watching her this morning,” she said.
The group’s reaction to the final moments of the competition was no less enthusiastic than that of the Exxcel campers. Friends of Devore and her twin sister, Sue Faber, who is Aly Raisman’s grandmother and Lynn’s mother, involuntarily shouted out as Raisman competed in vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor events.
“I live in Florida, and I didn’t see her as much as I would have liked, not since she was 10. I never understood that until I saw the documentary [Aly Raisman “Quest for Gold” on Comcast Sportsnet],” she said. “I was just really amazed. We couldn’t be more proud.”
Gilda Di Carli contributed to this report.