A Former Gymnast's Take on the Larry Nassar Scandal

Disclaimer: The views in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the views of Her Campus FSU.

Once upon a time, I dreamed of becoming an Olympian. But in a whirlwind of broken bones and pointed toes, I had to put that dream to rest. I took my first gymnastics class at six years old, and I fell in love with the sport almost instantly. I quit all my other athletic endeavors to dedicate myself to the sport. 

Courtesy: Erin Files

I was mediocre at best, though my mom will tell you otherwise. But, I somehow worked my way up to compete at a Level Seven by the time I was 12. Over the years, I had convinced myself that I would one day compete at an elite level. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Carly Patterson and Nastia Lukin. Obviously, I was completely deluded. These girls started training practically from the time they could walk, and here I was after six years, thinking I could be just like them. But regardless of the actual probability of me making it on the US national team, I idolized these young women. I wanted to be just like them. But as it turns out, much of what these girls endured is nothing I would ever wish upon myself or any other woman in the world. It feels like everything I believed in was a sham.

Courtesy: Erin Files

I quit gymnastics when I was 13, after having competed for more than half my life. I’ve never lost my love for both USA Gymnastics and the sport itself, but I now question my loyalty to an organization willing to cover up the sexual assault of more than 140 young women. I was a cardholding member of USA Gymnastics for over six years. I still have all of my cards, tucked away in boxes of memories past, each and every one of them signed by members of the USA Gymnastics board of directors. 

I found one of my cards recently, and on the back, under what the organization deems important information, is this statement: “USA Gymnastics is committed to providing a safe environment for its members, participants, coaches and officials, volunteers and staff in all gymnastics disciplines.” If their objective was to completely disregard their own bylaws, they succeeded. Thankfully, effective January 21st, three of these board members, Chairman Paul Parilla, Vice Chairman Jay Binder, and Treasurer Bitsy Kelley, have resigned from their positions after the sexual assault allegations against former doctor Larry Nassar have proved true. As leaders of an organization made up of thousands of young women, many of whom are children, these executives had a responsibility to ensure the safety of the organization’s members. It disgusts me to think that a sport I dedicated years of my life to, an organization I placed my trust in, could have covered up such an atrocity. Nassar’s abuse dates back more than twenty years, but that includes only the ones we know about. Who knows how many other young women whose trust he violated.

Courtesy: Brittany Files

Nassar was one of USA Gymnastics’ official physicians through four Olympic cycles, as well as for Michigan State University’s athletics department. Over the course of Nassar’s time working at The Ranch, the former official training center for the national team, he had unfettered access to the gymnasts’ rooms and would enter and “treat” them privately. He created these fake treatment plans, but because he was a doctor, the athletes were taught to trust him.

At around 10 or 11 years old, I begged my parents to let me go camping at The Ranch, but they ultimately decided not to send me. I was upset about their decision for a really long time. One of my friends got to go, and I was extremely jealous, but now I understand why they didn’t want me to go. Like the young girls Nassar assaulted, I would have been alone in another state at such a young age. I thought I would have been safe there, as I’m sure these other girls, and their parents believed as well. They put their trust in this organization and in Nassar, who was supposed to keep them safe and healthy, and he did unforgivable things to them. And then when they tried to speak up, they were disregarded and ignored. For over two decades, from the first accusation in 1997, USA Gymnastics ignored Nassar’s malfeasance. 

At Larry Nassar’s sentencing, over 150 of his victims testified, and Judge Rosemarie Aquilina made sure he heard every single one of them. Nassar was sentenced to 40-175 years, and I hope he lives for every single second of that 175-year sentence. Two-time Olympian Aly Raisman testified on Jan. 19, proclaiming to Nassar and the world that she, and her fellow athletes, are no longer victims; they are survivors. “All these brave women have power, and we will use our voices to make sure you get what you deserve, a life of suffering spent replaying the words delivered by this powerful army of survivors,” said Raisman.

Courtesy: CNN

You can read more about Raisman’s testimony here.

Here’s to the survivors.