Aly Raisman is baring it all – literally and figuratively.
The 21-year-old Olympic gymnast is one of several athletes going nude for ESPN The Magazine‘s annual Body Issue, showing off her impressive 5-ft., 2-in., 115-lb. frame while opening up about life post-London.
“Every day is a challenge,” she says. “Even though at the 2012 Olympics we were so happy to win the gold medal, every day is not like that. I think people don’t understand that; people don’t see that side of the sport – the frustration, how much it takes a toll on your body, and mentally as well.”
Raisman, who made it to the finals of Dancing with the Stars in season 16, admits she took a year-long break from her sport following the games – “After one Olympics, most people are just burnt out,” she explains – but she hasn’t ruled out competing in Rio next summer.
“I’ll be 22 in the Olympics year. If I make the team, I’ll be the oldest U.S. gymnast,” she says. “My body is a little bit more achy than it was before, but at the same time I feel like I’m smarter now and able to understand the recovery process. I always joke that I’m 21 going on 50.”
It’s a body she cherishes – and protects. “I’ve never had an eating disorder, and I’m proud of that,” she says. And “instead of being insecure about my muscles, I’ve learned to love them. I don’t even think of it as a flaw anymore because it’s made me into the athlete that I am. I think imperfection is beauty.”
Still, there are times when she has to remind herself to have confidence. “My coaches always tell me I’m chicken,” she reveals. “I’m really afraid to do a lot of stuff in gymnastics. It looks easy or fun, but when you’re trying to learn all these crazy skills, it can be a little terrifying. When I actually think about how narrow the beam is or how high the bars are or how much it hurts to fall, that’s what freaks me out.”
For more from the Body Issue, visit espn.com, or pick up the issue on newsstands next Friday, July 10.