“The first thing you notice when you walk backstage is how many people are hugging. The room is swarming with female activists, politicians and actresses. Most of them have never met, but they’re embracing one another like old friends, displaying a level of intimacy that’s rarely found among strangers in mixed company. In one corner, Jane Fonda, who is wearing an olive pantsuit with a Time’s Up pin, is chatting with a pair of young organizers; Valerie Jarrett, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, holds court down the hall. Amid the frenzy at the conference, called The United State of Women, it takes me a minute to find Aly Raisman, who is sitting in a folding chair near the back of the room, deep in conversation.
She’s speaking with Tiffany Thomas Lopez. Like Raisman, who barely tops 5 feet, Thomas Lopez is small and strong, radiating coiled energy. Otherwise, they’re very different. Raisman, 24, has won multiple gold medals competing in two Olympics; she now lives with her parents outside Boston and flew to Los Angeles for this event. Thomas Lopez, who played softball for two years at Michigan State before leaving the program and returning home to California, is 37 and married. Their paths probably would not have crossed if they didn’t share the deep, terrible bond of having been sexually abused by Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State doctor who in January was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for molesting hundreds of young women.
Raisman, whose stick-straight posture betrays her years of training, sits with her legs crossed, eyes narrowing as she listens to Thomas Lopez recount her story. The former softball player arrived at Michigan State in 1998 and first saw Nassar that year. Raisman does the mental math about how old she was at the time, then glances at me and shakes her head. “I was 4. Jordyn [Wieber] was 3,” she says later. ‘We never should’ve met him.'”
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