CRYSTAL LAKE – Aubrie Purtell didn’t want to raise a commotion by walking in donning her prom dress while USA gymnastics star Aly Raisman was speaking.
“I didn’t want to take the attention away from an Olympic champion,” said Purtell, a senior at Huntley High School.
No problem. It was Raisman, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist in floor exercise, who approached Purtell for a photo opportunity.
Raisman appeared Saturday night at Crystal Lake Gymnastics Training Center, speaking to about 80 aspiring gymnasts and their parents about her career and offering advice for theirs. Raisman, 19, was the captain of the U.S. team that won gold.
Lisa Rumford, a coach at CLGTC, said as part of Raisman’s contract with USA Gymnastics, she speaks at gyms throughout the year. As a supporter of USA Gymnastics, CLGTC has been fortunate to make the list in recent years.
Purtell competes with CLGTC but was attending a Make-A-Wish Foundation Charity Ball at Park Place in Crystal Lake with her best friend, Ashley Secreto. They were done in time to make it to CLGTC.
“I know who Aly is. It’s really neat to meet her in person,” Purtell said. “This is one of my heroes I watched on TV.”
Raisman won gold in floor exercise and bronze on balance beam in the London Olympics, as well as team gold with the quintet tabbed “Fierce Five.” Raisman particularly liked the first question one of the CLGTC gymnasts asked: “Did you always win when you were younger?”
“When I was younger, I was always second, third or fourth,” Raisman said. “I didn’t always win. But I think things happen for a reason. It makes you work harder and harder. Don’t be discouraged because you can’t win every time.”
Raisman, like many of the girls to whom she was speaking, started gymnastics at a young age. Her mother had competed and took her to the gym. At 8, Raisman chose gymnastics over soccer, and her career took off after that.
“Gymnastics is physically challenging, but it’s also so mental,” she said. “You try months and months to get a new skill. I worked for three years before I got my 2 1/2 that I do on vault.”
Raisman admitted to the girls that her vault scares her, but that also is what makes gymnastics appeal to Raisman.
“I love it. It’s so challenging and always brings you something every day,” Raisman said.
After answering questions, Raisman posed for pictures with various age groups, then signed pictures, leotards, shirts, leather grips or anything else people brought by the table, as well as smiling for individual pictures.
“It was amazing,” said Clare Keane, 10, from Port Barrington. “Aly’s my favorite gymnast. I have a [Corn Flakes] box with the Fierce Five, I watched them all. I liked how she told us how her career started and not to get discouraged, to keep going.”
Alyssa Rich, 11, from Crystal Lake, also had watched Raisman in the Olympics.
“I was very excited, she’s one of my favorite gymnasts,” Alyssa said. “I liked learning about her experiences in the gym.”
No girl had a better picture with which to remember the night than Purtell, who recently committed to Northern Illinois University on a gymnastics scholarship. Rumford informed Raisman about the charity event Purtell had attendes as she arrived in a kelly green floor-length dress.
“[Raisman] asked me [for a picture]!” Purtell said. “I felt really famous.”