Raisman eyeing podium, runway

Teen gymnast draws inspiration from the 1996 gold-medal-winning U.S. team

Updated: May 15, 2012, 10:57 AM ET
By David Auguste | ESPNHS

By now, you may have heard of Aly Raisman the gymnast.

She's the majestic maestro of the floor routine who has amassed nearly 20 international medals and is viewed as one of the new faces of U.S. gymnastics along with Michigan native Jordyn Wieber.

But you've probably never heard of Aly Raisman the fashion designer.

The GK Elite and Ralph Lauren model keeps a scrapbook filled with mockups of leotards and casual attire that she hopes will one day bear her nickname, Lala.

On the surface, her design pursuits might seem like the frivolous dream of a clothing-crazed teen, but Raisman envisions the venture as the culmination of a successful and lengthy stint on the U.S. Olympic team, a pursuit she hopes to kick-start at this summer's London Games.

"It's a dream of mine," Raisman said. "I'm just really trying to focus on the Olympic team right now, and hopefully from there I can add some cool opportunities."

Before the Lala line hits the shelves, Raisman is looking to stitch together a gold-medal career that will garner her the same recognition as gymnastics luminaries such as Kerri Strug, Dominique Dawes or Nastia Liukin.

"For as long as I can remember, I had a goal of being an elite gymnast and Olympian," Raisman said. "It would be really special to represent the U.S. team. Not many people can say [they've done] that."

Aly Raisman
Jacob Belcher/ESPNHSAly Raisman was a member of the gold-medal-winning U.S. squad at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo, and she won an individual bronze in the floor exercise.

The Needham, Mass., native got her start in the sport at age 2, when she stared attending Mommy and Me courses. As she grew older, she quickly distanced herself from the pack. Watching the gold-medal conquest of the 1996 Magnificent Seven enhanced her passion for the sport.

"I get so much inspiration from the girls on the current team and the 1996 gold-medal team," Raisman says. "I've watched the video of them winning a million times. The '96 team was a special team. I want to create my own memories."

Raisman's career began to blossom once she enrolled in gymnastics guru Mihai Brestyan's program in 2004. Brestyan, a former coach for the Romanian and Israeli national teams, helped ratchet up her workouts. The move paid immediate dividends, as she began stockpiling trophies at national events.

Nowadays, Raisman is usually holed up inside the Brestyan's American Gymnastics Club in Burlington, Mass., for upward of seven hours a day, perfecting every jump, tumble and dismount under her coach's watchful eye.

"She took our attention right away," said Brestyan. "She had the physical and the personal abilities along with a lot of potential and desire to succeed."

That potential manifested itself in the fall during the World Championships in Japan. Raisman won a bronze medal in the floor exercise and added fourth-place finishes in the beam and all-around to pace the U.S. to team gold.

Entering the Olympic Trials, which begin June 28 in San Jose, Calif., Raisman is in a strong position to make the U.S. team given her exploits on the international stage.

"I expect her to be on the team," Brestyan said. "That's the first step. And when she's on the team, I believe she will medal."

Brestyan, a former USA Gymnastics Coach of the Year, has a keen eye for up-and-coming talent, counting 2008 Olympic silver medalist Alicia Sacramone among his star pupils. Raisman and Sacramone have forged a strong bond after spending countless hours working out together, so if Raisman is curious about what it takes to achieve success at the Olympic level, she just consults her weekly practice partner.

"She reminds me of myself -- similar techniques and all," Sacramone said. "She has an incredible work ethic, and she's very determined. Once you have that behind you, it helps you go forward. I think she can have a very long career."

Becoming a decorated Olympian would no doubt help Raisman's fashion ambitions. Sacramone has built her own brand on the heels of her 2008 Games success, appearing in various clothing catalogs and ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue. Her 2008 teammate Shawn Johnson became GK's first endorsed athlete to drop a signature line when she unveiled the Johnson Cheer collection in 2010.

Could Raisman, who inked a deal with GK in April, be the next to transcend the mat and make a successful foray into fashion? Her mother, Lynn, believes it's only a matter of time.

"I've seen her mockups, and she has a great style," Lynn said. "When I put together an outfit, I always ask her how it looks."

Raisman clearly has big plans, not to mention the drive to see them through. In addition to the clothing line and her intense workout regimen -- not to mention the home-school curriculum the senior, who attended Needham (Mass.) High until last year, undertakes -- Raisman has also penned a 200-page journal of her travels and experiences that she hopes to get published.

"Gymnastics is my whole life, and I dream of going to the Olympics and being a world champ," she said. "Over the next two months, I'm going to work hard so I have no regrets."

David Auguste covers high school sports for ESPNHS. Follow him on Twitter @DAugusteESPN or email him at David.Auguste@espn.com.