Aly Raisman officially confirmed her Olympics retirement, but revealed there’s ‘so much more’ to this big decision. The gymnast proceeded to look back on her ‘Olympic journey’ and revealed what she’d tell her eight-year-old self in an emotional letter.

Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman, 25, was “caught off guard” after her mother watched “news of her retirement” on television over the holidays. That’s because the report claimed the gymnast “had decided to skip the Tokyo Olympics” happening in 2020 — while true, Aly was thrown off when the TV segment “characterized [it] as such a simple decision,” which she revealed in the opening of an emotional and touching letter shared to Instagram on Jan. 14. Taking the narrative into her own hands, the gymnast reflected on her “Olympic journey” which saw her win gold at the 2012 Olympics in London and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“The past 10 years have been such a whirlwind that I haven’t really processed all that has happened, and sometimes I wonder whether I ever will,” Aly wrote. “I’ve lived a pretty fast-paced life and sometimes I have to remind myself to slow down, unplug from technology and take the time to appreciate what I’ve experienced and learned. So many memories bubbled up over the holidays that I realized I needed to give myself the space to really sit with these feelings and reflect.”

These feelings led Aly to address her eight-year-old self, who was once idolizing the gymnasts competing in the 1996 Olympics on her VHS tape. “I suspect I keep going back to that time because I now know the power of that little girl’s dream. I think about what I’d say to her now,” Aly wrote, and this is her message for her younger self: “I would tell her about all the amazing people she will meet along the way, and the success she will have. I envision her eyes lighting up and a smile spreading across her face as she learns she will one day be like those gymnasts she watched on TV, and that she will inspire some other little girl to cartwheel around her house, dreaming of one day competing in the Olympics.”

“I wonder if I would tell her that life will be filled with ups and downs, and that there are people in the sport who will fail to protect her and her teammates,” Aly continued. One such person who failed at doing this was disgraced USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, whom was accused of sexual abuse by more than 150 women and girls during his court hearing. However, Aly protected her teammates and future gymnasts by testifying against the abuser in 2018, who pleaded guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct and was given a 40-125 year prison sentence. Aly has also called out multiple gymnastics organizations for “enabl[ing] this monster” and taking “his side” over innocent girls’, which she said while appearing on The View in Jan. 2018.

Aly hopes to continue making her sport a safe environment, as she wrote towards the end of her letter, “It is this love [for gymnastics] that fueled my Olympic dreams, and it is this love that now inspires me to do everything I can to make it safer for the many wonderful people in the sport and all the little 8-year-olds out there who will be watching the gymnasts in Tokyo, dreaming of one day making it to the Olympics themselves.” You can read Aly’s full inspiring letter above.

While Aly’s decision to retire from competitive gymnastics broke many fans’ hearts, they were nothing but supportive. “Knowing that aly raisman has officially retired from gymnastics has made me full on bawl my eyes out. she was and still is my biggest role model,” one fan tweeted, which Aly herself liked. Another fan tweeted, “One of the best gymnasts of all time, but the way you’ve conducted yourself since you stopped competing is even more impressive. Continue using your platform for good. Thanks for all the years of amazing gymnastics!” A Twitter user also commended Aly for sticking up for abuse survivors, writing, “You are truly one of the best Olympic role models in this sport. We are so proud of you for representing our country with grace and strength. Thank you for your courage to share your story & for being the voice to represent other survivors.”

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