Silenced
Politics and Activism

Silenced

A reflection of my sixteen and a half years as a competitive gymnast, and the ways in which the system allowed monsters like Larry Nassar to thrive.

363
Personal Photo

"How could something like this happen?" I was asked, "Did you ever experience anything like this?"

These were the questions that followed me following Larry Nassar's whirlwind trial and subsequent sentencing. I never knew how to respond. Myself, along with so many gymnasts, were angry. Key word angry; shockingly, not surprised. The media pointed fingers at Nassar; yet, no one questioned the sport itself. During my time with USA Gymnastics, the organization supported an environment where coaches were free to physically and mentally abuse their athletes. I was one of those athletes, and this article is my story.

I started gymnastics at 18 months old with mommy-and-me classes. I was placed on "pre-team" (a precursor to the competition team) by age 4, and I started competing at age 6. Rather than birthday parties and playdates with friends, I spent up to 30 hours training in the gym each week. My best friends were my teammates, and I saw my coaches more than I saw my own parents. I was on the elite track at age 11; I was deemed an Olympic hopeful. The label appeared as a glowing achievement; upon reflection, however, being labeled as the "best" was not worth the physical and mental damage that ensued.

Gymnastics is more important than academics.

Gymnastics is more important than health.

Gymnastics is more important than happiness.

That was the rhetoric that our coaches instilled in us, and that was the rhetoric that silenced my voice.

At some point between ages 11 to 12, I tore my meniscus. I cannot pinpoint the exact moment since my injury was not diagnosed until I was 14 years old. I remember feeling my knee painfully pop and click whenever I ran, walked, or jumped. I can recall the searing pain that shot through my leg every time I landed a dismount, tumbling pass, or vault. I can vividly see my purple kneecap and blue toes after tightly taping my knee in a failed attempt to numb my pain. There were days when I could not walk. I was in sixth grade, hobbling down the stairs at school, struggling to make it to my next class without crying.

Even with all these blatant symptoms, my coaches did not believe me. I was told that I was faking my injury to get out of assignments, and that my body was hurting because I had gained weight. At the time, I weighed less than 100 pounds.

My meniscus tear later contributed to a series of other injuries. As I tried to compensate for the mounting pain in my knee, I subjected my other body parts to other injuries: one broken wrist, multiple sprained ankles, and two calcified achilles tendons. Each injury--barring my broken wrist--was written off as an excuse that should instead be attributed to a change in my weight.

Like many pre-teens, at age 13, I went through puberty. I gained some weight, but I was still small and athletic. My coaches, however, made me feel like a whale. I was pulled aside during my morning practice by my head-coach. She scolded me, "Your parents make a lot of sacrifices for you to attend this gym. You cannot be putting on weight; you're getting fat, and you need to lose the weight to be good."

I remember holding back tears and nodding. I could not fight back. I was small, demeaned, and hopeless--silenced.

Later that week, I met with a "diet specialist" who wanted to eradicate real, tangible food from my diet and replace it with powders and juices. I refused. Things went from bad to worse.

Corrections from my coaches turned into personal attacks. After I did not make a correction the first time, my vaulting coach snapped at me, "Are you retarded or something? It's a wonder that your parents send you to private school... It's clearly not paying off."

I nodded with tears in my eyes. I could not fight back.

I was not a stranger to harsh comments and punishment. On my thirteenth birthday, for example, I was told that I was not allowed to get off of the beam until I made thirteen flight series (my custom birthday present from my head coach) in a row. I could not get water, and I could not talk to anyone until the assignment was finished. Getting off would result in thirteen rope climbs. I spent over an hour standing on that beam; I was dizzy, tired, and trapped. Another day, I remember being forced to stay in our splits for over an hour of practice. Our legs were propped up on 8 inch mats, and our arms were forced to stay elevated above our heads. I recall not being able to walk the next day since my hamstrings were effectively overstretched on both sides. Another time, a plastic Nalgene water bottle was thrown at us as we stood on the beams. What about the time that my friend was yanked off the ground and yelled at after ramming her ribcage into the beam?

I could not do it anymore; however, gymnastics was an integral piece of my identity, and I did not know how to leave the sport behind. Thus, after talking to my parents, I decided to move gyms. My knee injury was diagnosed and repaired, and after multiple cortisone shot treatments, my achilles pain became manageable. I was happier. I had a coach who taught me to own my voice. He reminded me that my feelings were valid, and he gave me a sense of individual purpose--a purpose to stay strong and never let anyone silence my pain again.

In short, I was not surprised by Larry Nassar. The environment in which gymnasts survive is toxic; our voices are obliterated and oppressed. Nassar's abuse, an abuse that many of my teammates and friends survived, thrived in this preferred system of silence. I am tired of silence, and I invite other gymnasts to share their stories too--here's to breaking that silence.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Lifestyle

These 11 Face Masks On Etsy Support Small Businesses While Fighting The Spread Of Coronavirus

We're staying safe as states start lifting lockdown guidelines.

I, like most people who have had the luxury of being able to stay at home during this time, haven't spent much time outdoors at all. But when I do brave the great outdoors for a walk or to get to the grocery store, you won't find me without a mask.

My family and I were lucky enough to have family friends who were sewing some and had extras to give to us, but most of my friends and loved ones outside my immediate family have had to order some (or make a makeshift one out of scarves or bandanas).

Keep Reading... Show less
Lifestyle

13 Reasons We're Using Quarantine As The Ultimate Excuse For Online Shopping This Month

The one thing we haven't distanced from is our bank account.

Throughout quarantine, I've been FaceTiming most of my friends in a full turtleneck or the go-to cozy sweater I keep wrapped around the chair in my room. Either way, I always have tea in my hands to keep myself warm — till this past week.

For most of the country who hasn't had the luck of quarantining in 90-degree weather on their family's lake house or with a backyard pool, things began to change this month. Our favorite shows came out with summer seasons, the sun came out, and we started spending more time outside.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

I Sat Down (Virtually) With Morgan Wooten To Talk About Coronavirus's Impact On The Wellness Industry

Just because coronavirus has greatly impacted the wellness industry doesn't mean wellness stops.

Morgan Wooten

If you're anything like me, your weekly fitness classes are a huge part of your routine. They keep me fit, healthy, and sane. Honestly, these classes help my mental health stay in tip-top shape just as much as they help my physical health.

Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, gyms and fitness studios are facing temporary closure. Yes, this means my personal routine is thrown a curveball, but this also means the wellness industry is one of many that is looking at unemployment and hardship. Do I miss my Monday spin class? Of course. But do the wellness professionals whose worlds were flipped upside down have a lot more to overcome than a slight change of routine? Absolutely. Thankfully, if anyone can prove the ultimate flexibility, it's the wellness industry.

Keep Reading... Show less
HBO Max

If you are a normal person who spends most of their time streaming TV shows, you'll know that "Friends" was taken off Netflix early in 2020. Given that a global pandemic followed shortly after, many diehard fans of the show stuck in quarantine have been experiencing significant Central Perk withdrawal.

Keep Reading... Show less
Student Life

How To Interview A Class Of 2020 Graduate

What they've been through is truly unprecedented.

Odyssey

No matter how you want to spin it, the Class of 2020 will be the first class graduating amidst a global pandemic.

Keep Reading... Show less
Netflix

By now, it is safe to declare "Outer Banks" on Netflix as THE TV Show of quarantine.

"Tiger King" got out to an early lead, but since, the Pogues and the Kooks have owned pop culture conversations while everyone has been couped up this spring amidst a global pandemic. And if you are one of the very few people out there in the world that has not heard about "Outer Banks" and or haven't binged it yet, well...

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

I Spoke To A California ER Doctor About COVID-19, And Y'all, Our Healthcare Workers Know What's Up

In light of what's going on in the world, it's time to get some front-line perspective.

It seems like the only thing I do these days is scroll through social media in a desperate attempt to gain information. My phone has called me out on my screen time more than once, and I just continue to ignore it. You're probably in the same boat — stuck at home, scrolling deeper and deeper into a hole of conspiracy theories and possible "back to normalcy" dates, hungry for information.

While we know that the news is not our mental health's friend these days, getting reliable information is helpful and necessary.

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments