Life

A Different Kind of Olympic Heroism

No matter how much we may have invested in their success, a child must feel safe to let us know if someone we have trusted has violated that trust. ©Thomas Gumbrecht

Aly Raisman is an Olympic gold medalist, and was captain of the gold medal winning US Olympic Gymnastics Teams in 2012 and 2016.

Anyone familiar with her story has likely experienced some kind of strong reaction to the scandals regarding the sexual abuse of US Olympic gymnasts, publicized on CBS News 60 Minutes in a telling interview with Raisman recently. It brings back to mind the sexual abuse of student athletes and ensuing coverup at the Penn State football program.

For most, the reaction may be outrage, disgrace, or disgust. Some may experience the pain of reopening old wounds from their own childhood. For many, it might be fear of the unspeakable happening to their own children.

We involved in equine sport can perceive ourselves to exist as somewhat of an island amidst the sea of other athletic pursuits. But are we in fact exempt from human failings?

When a young person finds a connection with a horse, a passion can be unlocked that is often life-changing. Those who work with our children can be thought of, often rightly, as facilitators of miracles—by student and parent alike.

As equestrian competitors, when we finally find that coach with whom we truly “click,” we might revere them. For a young person discovering how the right instruction and motivation coupled with their own hard work can produce unimagined results in the show ring, it can approach worship.

We are fortunate to be able to provide our children exposure to a sport that is full of wonderful people dedicated to creating a rewarding and positive experience for them. To bear witness to the process is inspiring, joyful and fulfilling.

To that, we must add vigilance.

As parents, it’s our job to create an environment in which a child knows what adult behavior is acceptable, and what is unacceptable. We need to make sure they feel it is safe, no matter how much we may have invested in their success, to tell us if an adult in whom they have placed their trust has done something to make them uncomfortable…even a miracle worker.

Hopefully, the lesson taught through the courage of Aly Raisman will be that no one, no matter how lofty a position they may hold, is beyond reproach.


About the Author

Thomas Gumbrecht began riding at age 45 and eventually was a competitor in lower level eventing and jumpers. Now a small farm owner, he spends his time working with his APHA eventer DannyBoy, his OTTB mare Lola, training her for a second career, and teaching his grandson about the joy of horses. He enjoys writing to share some of life’s breakthroughs toward which his horses have guided him.