“I realized I could attempt to find purpose out of this horrible thing that happened to me, or I could let it consume me for everything I am.”
Sterling Riethman fought back tears as she addressed the courtroom and her abuser, former USA Gymnastics doctor and osteopathic physician at Michigan State University, Larry Nassar. “Feeling hopeful, and terrified, I decided to give up my anonymity in early 2017. I mustered the courage to tell my story unapologetically and have continued to do so from that point on.”
Sterling and over 150 other women testified in January against Nassar and his sickening crimes.
Her story begins when she was 10 years old. She went to see Nassar for a foot and knee injury as a result from competitive gymnastics. Her mother, Kyle Keiser, explained that at the time, “we felt so fortunate that we had access to this man that wasn’t far away from our home and was a world renowned gymnastic doctor.”
Keiser is no stranger to the competitive athletic world, herself. As the Visual Coordinator and Choreographer for the Bronco Marching Band, owner of Kyle Productions as a coach, judge and clinician for competitive baton twirling and also Team Coordinator for the US International Cup Team and consultant to the French National Team, her background in athletics led her to seek out the very best for her daughter. And at the time, the best was Larry Nassar.
“Larry was a function driven doctor,” said Keiser, “whereas another doctor might take the more medicinal, physiological route.” Keiser explained that he would ask questions specific to how the sport impacted the body and would help Sterling strengthen her flat arches in her feet. Keiser said that some of his techniques to improve the arches and the lower body are techniques she, herself, uses to help the athletes she works with.
However, it wasn’t until her daughter Sterling was an adult that things turned sinister.
At Denison University in Ohio, Sterling moved on from gymnastics and was on the women’s diving team when she broke her back. Searching for doctors, her family decided to go to Nassar. “We thought, let’s go to Larry. He’s always been able to help you.” At the time, Keiser was glad to have such an influential and talented person helping her daughter.
“I sent her to the wolf.”
(Sterling Riethman, left, with her mom, Kyle Keiser, right)
Just entering into the adult world, Sterling Riethman was starting to attend doctor’s appointments on her own and going to see Nassar by herself. “She was driving herself, going by herself. I wasn’t there. I had to step back as a parent.”
Around the time of the first public accusations from Rachael Denhollander, Sterling was noticing that the treatments didn’t seem to make sense to her. Suspicious, she began a vigorous research on the medical treatments Nassar was performing and consequently, started to question everything. She came to the realization before bearing her truth to her mom. Keiser believes that Sterling wasn’t yet able to find the words to describe what happened. Eventually, Sterling sat down with a pen and attempted to articulate her experiences for herself on paper. She could not ignore the truth on the page. She sent what she wrote to her mother.
“And that’s how she told me. I was trying to stay as far away from it as I could. I didn’t want to hear it. But I couldn’t do that. It isn’t about me.”
While it might have been uncomfortable for Kyle Keiser as a mother, that doesn’t compare to how it must have felt for her daughter, Sterling. “Until you walk in our shoes, you have no clue.” Keiser said, addressing the charges of parent-blaming that is happening too frequently in the media surrounding the Nassar scandal. “He couldn’t have done this without fooling an entire society. It was the perfect storm.”
“The first time a girl goes to an OB GYN, does she question it? How many times is a girl told what is and isn’t okay? You don’t think about it and you trust your physicians.”
Keiser also addressed the lack of institutional control that enabled Nassar. “Why didn’t someone notice that they didn’t go through latex gloves? Who was the inventory person? Why weren’t questions asked? My biggest questions go back to the staff. That boggles my mind.”
Keiser explains that appropriate medical procedure and protocol need to be put first in the future. No one should let anything slide. Following these events, Keiser said she makes sure to enforce these kinds of procedures in her own work.
Moving forward, Keiser says that Sterling and her family will survive this. They have resources and good people around them. Sterling is married and has begun a career.
Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison. USA Gymnastics, the USOC, and Michigan State University are all under investigation for their practices that may have contributed to Nassar’s abuses.
Keiser also said that she can’t hate Nassar. “It serves no purpose. The biggest thing I can do is support my daughter. But it’s sad because he’s someone you believed in. You believed he could help your child.” She said all that those affected can do now is come together to stop something like this from happening in the future.
“I can’t change the past, but we can decide what we do with it. I refuse to let evil in. And all I can do is follow Sterling’s lead. I have great faith that my daughter will be fine. And although they might be wounded, they’re not broken.”
Watch Sterling’s heartbreaking court statement here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2rOYikaZtc (Begins at 5 minutes)
More about Kyle Keiser: http://kyleproductions.org