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Tangled Up in Blue: A Confession

 
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American gymnast and two-time Olympian Aly Raisman 

This is embarrassing to admit. Perhaps it shouldn’t be. I mean, why should it matter that one of the people I most admire is three decades younger than I and a hero to little girls (and not-so-little girls) around the world?

When I learned that this column would be appearing in an issue with a cover story focused on women in the workplace, I wanted to write about all the women I’ve worked with and who inspired me. As I was thinking about this, I came across a tweet asking you to name three people living or dead you most admire. Without giving it much thought, I cited Leonard Cohen (the man as much as the music), Richard Feynman (the quirky, hilarious, bongo-playing super genius from Rockaway, N.Y.) and . . . gymnast Aly Raisman. If the question were asked a week before or three hours later, I might have swapped out Cohen for Prince or Feynman for Roger Federer . . . but I’m pretty certain I would have included Ms. Raisman as I’ve been fascinated and inspired by her since becoming aware of her during the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Many readers know the broad outlines: Captain of the 2012 and 2016 U.S. Olympic teams; gold medalist who came back from a heartbreaking fourth-place finish in 2012 to triumph in Rio four years later; and a role model who fearlessly faced down serial sex abuser Larry Nasser and then emerged as one of the most compelling voices in the #MeToo movement.

Now here’s where it becomes especially embarrassing: Since the summer of 2016, I’ve visited Aly’s Twitter and Instagram pages almost daily. As a 24-year-old celebrity, her posts are often what you’d expect — goofy selfi es and a series of curated “on brand” images/messages. Though I hasten to add that her brand projects grit, grace and intelligence, with an endearing splash of spirited silliness. As anyone who’s spent any time on social media will attest, it’s a toxic, dispiriting minefield that exposes you to an endless assortment of freaks and terrible people. Checking in on Aly is invariably a refreshing tonic — even her most casual posts are suffused with her signature warmth and authenticity.

For two years, I lived in fear that my high-school-age daughter would come across my computer or tablet turned to one of Aly’s Instagram posts. How would I explain this fascination? At several points I tried to discreetly persuade my daughter to consider embracing Aly as a worthy role model — first, because she is one; second, because it would kind of explain things if she caught me red-handed. Thankfully, I was never caught, though, sadly, she never embraced Aly as a role model, which is no wonder: I’ve tried getting her to listen to Bob Dylan for 19 years and that hasn’t happened either.

When I told our spirited editor-in-chief Dan Cafaro what I’d be writing about, he immediately insisted that I not make it “creepy.” I feel confident that I’ve skirted the “eek” factor — in fact, I’m planning on sharing this with my daughter when it appears in print. There’s always a chance she’ll respond with, “Dad, we knew, we were just too embarrassed for you and didn’t know what to say.” But that’s OK, so long as her main takeaways are that purpose, constancy and fearlessness are what matters, you never know where you’ll find inspiration . . . and that she should start with the album Blood on the Tracks, then work backward to Blonde on Blonde.

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Charles Epstein is president and founder of BackBone Inc. Follow him on Twitter. 

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