"It’s been such an incredible and empowering year, but it’s also been one of the hardest years of my life," the Olympic medalist told PEOPLE
Aly Raisman never imagined any of this.
Before going public last year as one of the many survivors of Dr. Larry Nassar, a longtime team physician for USA Gymnastics now serving up to 175 years in prison for sexual abuse, Raisman did not expect the kind of support she ultimately received — or the platform her candor would provide her to so many fans.
“It’s been such an incredible and empowering year, but it’s also been one of the hardest years of my life,” she told PEOPLE last week in Atlanta, ahead of the Super Bowl.
“I’m still processing what happened to me. I’m doing therapy,” said Raisman, 24, a six-time Olympic medalist with three golds. “Every time I do an interview, I always want to make sure that I’m not just speaking on behalf of myself but also on behalf of other people. It’s not just a problem in the gymnastics world, it’s everywhere. And I can’t imagine how many people out there are suffering and afraid to share their stories.”
Since sharing her own story, Raisman has continued to speak out — at Nassar’s January 2018 sentencing, in a surprise appearance, and in the media, such as last year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue where she posed naked with “trust yourself,” “live for you,” and “abuse is never okay” written on her body.
Raisman has also partnered with Olay, including joining model Jillian Mercado, sportscaster Kay Adams and others in the brand’s #FaceAnything campaign last year. She spoke with PEOPLE on Friday while traveling with Olay for the championship game, where the line was preparing to debut Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Super Bowl commercial.
“I just try to be as honest and I’m really trying to be as relatable as I can be and just try to be as honest with my fans as possible,” she said, “because I think when you’re honest then people realize that they’re not alone.”
Become an advocate for body positivity — for finding strength and comfort in one’s own skin — was a natural progression “with a lot of things that I speak out about.”
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There have been challenges, too.
“There are some days where people tell me their story and I feel like I can feel their pain and it’s devastating for me and I wish I could end abuse for everybody, I really do,” she said. “And that’s why I try to promote taking care of yourself and self-love and meditation and going to therapy — because I think if everyone in the world took care of themselves and felt comfortable asking for help there would be a lot less abuse in the world.”
As part of her own self-care routine, Raisman said she’s lately been “obsessed with face masks.”
“I find it really calming,” she explained to PEOPLE, “and so I like putting a face mask on and taking a bath or reading a book. … I’ve been making an effort when I come home from wherever I am, I either take a bath or a shower and I put a face mask on and then I just read a book or a meditate and go to bed and that has been really helpful for me.”
She joked: “My friends are like, ‘Let’s go out on Saturday night,’ I’m literally like, ‘I want to stay home and do a face mask and drink tea.’ I’m like an old lady.”
“You have to reset in order to be your best self,” she said.
Her other skincare tips? Hydration (“obviously”) and sunscreen.
Those aren’t her only skin obsessions: “I’m also into anti-aging too,” Raisman said, “which sometimes people that’s weird because I’m 24.”
“But,” she added, “I still like it because I just feel – somebody told me yesterday I looked like I was 14, so I was like, ‘Well then when I’m 40 I’ll look like I’m like 20.’ “