Everyone remembers the moment Aly Raisman became our athlete – at the 2012 London Summer Olympics when, to the tune of “Hava Nagilah,” she dedicated her floor routine to the memory of the eleven Israeli athletes murdered at the 1972 Munich games. She won a gold medal for that flawless performance, as well as the hearts of Jewish people around the world. In her autobiography, Fierce, Raisman shares her journey with candor and joy, giving credit to her supportive family.
Gymnastics has been Raisman’s life from the age of eight, and along with it has come the rigorous training schedule of champions. Though she noticed the ordinary life she was missing, Raisman was rarely resentful. She embraced the pace of her days with enthusiasm, and joyfully chronicles friendships with other young gymnasts, intense training sessions, and competitions around the world.
Judaism is a minimal theme in her book. After mentioning being contacted by the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, Raisman segues into thoughts about missing school, self-consciousness about her looks, and academic pressure. There is scant mention of the headline-generating “Hava Nagilah” moment at the London Olympics. We are not privy to her thoughts about being Jewish or her feelings on her grand, generous gesture. She acknowledges speaking at Jewish Community Centers and notes “the impact I had as a Jewish athlete.” She also discusses several post-Olympics incidents: a letter she received from an IDF soldier and a letter her rabbi received from a Holocaust survivor. But from there the focus quickly returns to the book’s major themes of gymnastics, ambition, and hard work. The sexual abuse scandal which stunned the world is touched on, and her bravery and resolve in dealing with this betrayal is wrenching. Resources for survivors of abuse are listed in the addendum.
The book — a long exaltation of a young life filled with the joys of discipline and its rewards — exudes confidence and honesty, and offers excellent advice. The story ends with a list entitled “The Fierce Guide to Life,” which is a method worth embracing. It includes such tips as “Strive to make the world a kinder place. The impact of your kindness can be bigger than you think.”
Award-winning journalist and freelance writer, Helen Weiss Pincus, has taught memoir writing and creative writing throughout the NY Metro area to senior citizens and high school students. Her work has been published in The New York Times, The Record, The Jewish Standard, and other publications. She recently added “Bubby” to her job description.