I carry with me an enormous amount of guilt every single day of my life, thinking to myself that if I had only spoken up and asked a question or said something to my parents at the time, so many of these beautiful souls who have spoken in this very room over the past week would not have been subjected to this pain through Larry's abuse of their bodies.
date of testimony: January 23th 2018
location of testimony: Lansing, Michigan
age of first abuse: 12
First and foremost, I want to thank you, Honorable Judge Aquilina, for the opportunity to read my statement in your courtroom today.
For the last 25 years of my life, a quarter of a century, I struggled to cope with this piece of my past. I buried the emotions deep inside in hopes that eventually it would all just go away. I was not a collegiate athlete or an Olympian nor have I ever had the chance to represent my country in any sport. I am simply a woman whose journey started with my love for the sport of gymnastics.
I was three years old when I watched Mary Lou Retton in the 1984 Summer Olympics become the first American to win the all-around gold medal. My mom often tells the story about how I began my gymnastics career walking on the beam, which was really the top part of our living room couch, and swinging on the bars, which was really the sailboat hoist at our cottage, and tumbling on the floor, which was really a series of couch cushions lined up to simulate the diagonal tumbling path on a floor mat.
She immediately enrolled me in gymnastic classes and it wasn’t long before I was invited to be a part of the junior trainer program, an accelerated gymnastic program for young gymnasts who showed a high level of talent at an early age, which was an honor for me to join.
Throughout my elementary school years as a young child I was already practicing four days a week after school and moving up quickly through the competition levels with Great Lakes Gymnastics Club. I loved everything about the sport; the feeling of flying through the air, the discipline involved with practicing the same routine over and over again, always looking to improve upon the last, and the camaraderie with my teammates.
I was fully immersed in the gymnastic culture. I was so incredibly committed to my sport and my gym that shortly after retiring in 1989 my father, who was a prominent, highly respected surgeon in the area who was for a time chief of the department of surgery and president of medical staff at Ingham Medical, donated an exam table to Larry Nassar and Great Lakes Gymnastics Club so that Larry, the team’s athletic trainer, could better treat the gymnasts and their injuries. It was on that very exam table located in the back room of Great Lakes Gymnastics Club, that cold, dark, black back room where I spent hours of my life enduring the treatment that Larry insisted helped my back pain. I thank God that my father is no longer on this earth to witness the statements that so many women have made and to hear the details of the abuse that took place on that table. It would break his heart.
In November of 1992 my world changed forever. At practice one evening I fell off the bars, landed on my stomach, and my feet flew over my head folding my body in half. I somehow managed to pry myself off the mat and finish the workout. I even managed to attend a gymnastics camp the following weekend after my coach convinced me I was fine. He told me to suck it up, to practice through the pain.
On the third day of the camp I collapsed halfway through a back handspring from the severe back pain I was experiencing. After seeing several doctors here in Lansing, I flew to Boston in December to seek the care of a specialist. After a SPECT scan and physical examination he diagnosed my injury as an L-5 stress fracture. I was immediately fitted for a back brace which I wore for 22 hours a day for six months to heal. It was following that six month period of time that I began to see Larry on a regular basis.
I saw him for physical therapy, strength training, and flexibility to get me back in competition shape. That summer I turned 12 years old.
Early on Larry created a safe environment by supporting me and acting as a confidant when my coaches yelled and screamed at me in the gym. He posed as a listening ear allowing me to open up to him and offering advice. He brought me and my teammates Skittles and Starburst at meets knowing candy was never allowed or tolerated by the coaching staff. I now know this was merely a grooming technique he used to gain my trust. He was kind, polite, and even charismatic in his interactions with my parents and other professionals, assuring them I was in good hands.
My back pain never truly went away after the fracture. Later on in my gymnastic career I pinched my sciatic nerve severely which resulted in the permanent loss of feeling in a portion of my right leg.
Initially Larry’s treatments for my constant back pain, sciatic nerve pain, and IT band tension took place in the back room at the gym at Great Lakes long after practice was over and once many of the coaches had left for the night. The first time Larry performed one of his treatments I remember thinking to myself, is this really going to help my pain go away? My initial gut reaction was to question the technique. It was so bizarre and different than anything my physical therapist or any other physicians had done with me previously. I couldn’t help but wonder how inserting his bear fingers in my vagina was supposed to make my pain disappear? Since I hadn’t even had my period yet, I assumed it was my vagina, but I really didn’t know for sure.
I didn’t say anything to anyone, of course. He was a medical professional and I had no reason not to trust him. After all, he had created a facade of trust and compassion and I was desperate for someone to take away my pain. I assumed this treatment was just what I had to do to accomplish that goal.
I will never forget the smell of the lotion he always carried with him in his training bag and the feeling of the scratchy, dingy, generic towels he used in the treatments to hide whatever was going on underneath.
On occasion, treatments were arranged in Larry’s home on Sundays so there was no schedule conflicts and so he could set aside more time. I remember one time in particular laying on the table in his living room when he excused himself in the middle of our session to change into looser fitting clothing. I can only imagine what he was doing in the other room before he came back to resume where he left off.
The treatments continued in the training room at Jenison Fieldhouse after practice when we trained there after leaving Great Lakes before Twistars was up and running. The treatments took place at Twistars, although thankfully my gymnastics career ended shortly after moving to Twistars. I’m certain there would have been many more treatments the longer I stayed in the sport.
Finally, the treatments took place at MSU Sports Medicine Clinic. The last treatment I recall occurred my sophomore year in college. At the time I was in so much pain every day I didn’t want to get out of bed. Since Larry knew my entire medical history I naturally called and made an appointment to see him in the clinic.
That day I went to MSU Sports Medicine Clinic and was accompanied by my boyfriend at the time, who happened to be a police officer. He joined me in the room as he was concerned about my pain and really wanted to understand the diagnosis and the treatment. I had previously told him about Larry’s treatments and, of course, he questioned the legitimacy of them but I convinced him it was okay. In my gut I had always questioned it but couldn’t imagine the implications to my psyche if my intuition was right and I had, in fact, been abused all those times over the years.
When Larry came in he was shocked to see another man in the room but awkwardly introduced himself and began the treatment. He positioned himself between me and my boyfriend so nothing could be seen and, of course, didn’t talk about what he was doing underneath the sheet. My boyfriend still wasn’t convinced, but, again, Larry was a physician and the medical coordinator for USA Gymnastics at the time so the treatment must be legitimate, right?
My mother and father were never informed about the treatments and were never present when they occurred. As medical professionals, both of them, they would have posed detailed questions regarding the physiological benefits and mechanism of the treatment and how that would help my injuries and pain. At the very least, they would have made damn sure that proper procedures were followed. At a minimum, that gloves were used when penetrating my vagina if that component was, in fact, warranted.
So how did these experiences affect my life? Following the abuse by Larry I went through a string of abusive relationships, men taking advantage of me and abusing me in every way possible, sexually, physically, and emotionally. It wasn’t until I reached my 30s that I was able to stand up for myself, realizing the pattern of abuse was destroying my life.
I battle anorexia and bulimia as I struggle with body image and self confidence always. Intimacy continues to be a challenge in my marriage. For years I felt so incredibly alone and confused. I still feel stupid for not immediately recognizing what — that what he was doing was wrong, but, then again, I was merely a child. How was I supposed to know any different?
I often wondered if any of my teammates experienced the same treatments, but I was too ashamed to talk about it. Instead, I suffered in silence.
I carry with me an enormous amount of guilt every single day of my life, thinking to myself that if I had only spoken up and asked a question or said something to my parents at the time, so many of these beautiful souls who have spoken in this very room over the past week would not have been subjected to this pain through Larry’s abuse of their bodies.
To this day I constantly question my judgment and second-guess even the most basic life decisions. I spent the majority of my life pushing these memories and recollections deep down as far away as possible. I packaged my emotions in a tightly closed box that I attempted to store on a high shelf where it’s hard to reach in hopes it would one day be forgotten. We all know that’s not how this works.
For years I convinced myself that I was going to be okay, that if I just continued to ignore that voice inside of me questioning the events surrounding my medical care and simply concentrate on where my life was headed, all the wonderful people I have in my life every day and growing professionally, I would be able to escape the vulnerability that comes with getting answers to the questions surrounding my past.
I employed the, fake it until you make it, and I never spoke of this to anyone until this story came to the forefront and I read that first article published in the IndyStar, the only exception being my boyfriend who came with me to my last appointment at MSU Sports Medicine Clinic. Not my parents. Not my teammates. Not my coaches. Not my friends. The shame, guilt, and embarrassment were too much to handle as a teenager and a young adult woman trying to desperately find normalcy in my world.
The day I read that article in the IndyStar, September 2016, my greatest fear came true. I knew that box containing all the emotions and memories I worked so hard to bury would be coming out and would begin to invade my conscious thoughts. Sure enough, the flood of emotions came back with a vengeance and I knew the reality of my past would be something I would have to deal with once again.
I tried for a short period of time to convince myself that maybe, just maybe Larry would be able to prove the treatment was legitimate and hoped there would be a physician who would come forward and explain how this treatment is and was appropriate for my injuries. I prayed that would happen so I wouldn’t have to come to terms that I, too, was a victim of sexual assault by the doctor whom I trusted with my life and my body all those years.
Unfortunately, that day never came.
The last year and four months has brought me a constant strain of anxiety, confusion, anger, and resentment. It’s only been in the last year that I confided in my mother and my husband. They both encouraged me to come forward only if I felt comfortable and pledged their unconditional support.
I now know that the only way to move forward is to confront these demons that have had a hold on me for so, so long, and to show that I am not longer afraid to be vulnerable once again and to know this time I will not be violated.
It is only now that I am strong enough to share my story without fear of judgment. I am here today sharing this with all of you, knowing that this is only the first step in a very long journey to come in my healing process.
I am also here on behalf of all the other women out there who have shared similar experiences but aren’t ready to come forward. We are one. We are in this together, and we must all stand in support for each other.
Your Honor, may I address the defendant directly?
I am not here today to judge you. My God and your God will judge you at the end of your days, and he alone will decide your fate in the next world. I am here, however, to tell you that you no longer will hold any power over me. I am no longer imprisoned by this secret, and I am now free to take the next steps in my healing process.
Your Honor, I applaud the survivors who had the courage to speak out, and I beg every young athlete who may be enduring something they feel is inappropriate to speak up, and not only to listen to their intuition, but act upon it. It’s usually right on.
In a world of club gymnastics, children are conditioned to ignore warning signs and to persevere, to dedicate their bodies and minds to do whatever it takes to achieve the highest accolades with no regard for the consequences. I am here to tell you that it’s not worth it. Nothing is worth this abuse.
In closing, I want to take a moment to speak about a disturbing trend that’s taking place in our society and how we collectively process information regarding claims of sexual abuse. As we begin to put all the puzzle pieces together in relation to the totality of this case, I find it astonishing that although there were many girls like me who never uttered a word and kept the secret to themselves, there were also a number of girls who did question these treatments and went to an adult, yet it’s taken the public exposure and detailed regurgitation of traumatic events which affected over a hundred women before MSU, USAG, and the USOC bothered to spend enough significant time investigating them, investigating the claims, and enough quality time and effort to take action.
Let me pose a hypothetical question.
Hypothetically, if an equal number of male gymnasts expressed similar concerns of abuse, including collegiate level gymnasts and even former Olympians, do you think it would have taken this long for someone in a position of power to take action and effect change? I find that hard to believe, especially in light of the sexual abuse case that took place at Penn State University in 2011. The number of victims was miniscule in comparison, yet the response was almost immediate and changes went into effect swiftly and without hesitation.
In my opinion there’s a glaring double standard and it’s time that we examine the roots of these inconsistencies and make a conscious effort to make significant changes so that it never, ever happens again to any child. This is a revolution and it’s about time we hold the power.
THE COURT: And you do hold the power.
Your voice, your words are very powerful, and I know your dad’s big heart is wrapped around you as you spoke. You’ve just faced your biggest fear and you faced it with a vengeance.
You said that you never represented your country. That’s not true. You’ve represented your country by publicly speaking here with such dignity and such meaningful words. I applaud you, and you are now part of this sisterhood that has come forward, sister survivors, the army. It’s not going a way. It’s gaining strength. And, ma’am, I hope you keep talking, because your words were one of change and quality and we need that. We need you. Thank you.
MS. MEINKE: Thank you.