I grew up as an elite gymnast. My childhood was far from “normal.” Instead of after-school fun with classmates, I headed to a 4-hour gymnastics practice. At 9 years old, I was competing every weekend all over the United States. At 10 years old, heading into fourth grade, I was brought into the “two-a-day” program at my club.
They deemed me an “Olympic hopeful.”
For two years, I went to practice at 8 am. We worked out for three hours, went to school for two, then back to practice for another four. Yeah, not a normal childhood.
My life was defined by gymnastics. Everything revolved around the sport. I was 10.
My only friends were the other gymnasts I spent 50+ hours a week with. I didn’t go to birthday parties. I rarely made it through sleepovers without calling my mom. I was tired. I was working.
Gymnastics was more important than school. Gymnastics was more important than happiness. Gymnastics was more important than development. Gymnastics was more important than health.
And if that sounds fucked up to you, just wait.
After two years on the “path the the olympics” I was done. I hated gymnastics.
Some coaches told me I was throwing away my future. My parents asked me hundreds of times if I was sure. My teammates were heartbroken to lose one of their few friends. I was excited to find new friends.
It only took me one year to return to the sport who made me who I am. I might of hated gymnastics, but I also loved it. I needed it. I couldn’t live without it. I didn’t know who I was without it.
But I didn’t care to be an “Olympic hopeful” this time. I did what every gymnast does who makes this decision: I set my sights on college gymnastics.
College gymnastics was fun. The girls were happy. Nobody was crying at a meet or being yelled at by their coach in front of the stands. It was lively and freeing. I had a new goal, and nothing was going to stop me.
But, gymnastics is fucked.
With all of the news about Larry Nassar and the entire cover-up, nobody has come out and said these words: The sport of Gymnastics is fucked up.
Since the news broke, I’ve been asked a lot about my thoughts on Larry Nassar. And usually my response is met with absolute shock.
I, along with many other gymnasts, am so mad. I am so hurt. I am heartbroken and wrecked. I am fucked up. But I am not surprised.
For many of us who went through “the system” of USA gymnastics, the news of Larry Nassar was shocking, yet not surprising.
This is what makes us all so angry. We almost expected this.
Gymnastics isn’t like football. It’s not in the limelight. Until the olympics roll around, then everyone jumps on the bandwagon. That’s fine. Gymnastics can be pretty boring to watch on a smaller stage. But this lack of attention allowed for the sport to become, well, fucked.
When news about concussions and CTE came out, football was put under the microscope. Even now, it’s still being criticized. The public is concerned. Everyone is on constant look out for ways to make the sport safer. To stop the fucked up organization that decided it was okay to do this to human beings.
When the news about Larry Nassar came out, USA Gymnastics was put under the microscope. The organization, not the sport. How big was the cover up? Who knew? How did they let this happen?
But I, along with many other retired gymnasts, can attest that the poison reaches so much further than this. But nobody has put the sport under the microscope.
Last year, a video came out of a cheerleader being pushed down in the splits, crying and wailing. It broke national news. Everyone was outraged.
Every gymnast I knew laughed. We did this shit every single day for years. And when we made it down in the splits, they put a block under our feet to make it harder. When you made it down there, they put a bigger block. I saw a girl’s hamstring tear under the weight of a coach. And then I watched as she finished the rest of the 4 hour practice in tears. Because the coach “didn’t want to hear it.”
Gymnastics is fucked.
Larry Nassar is so much more than one man who destroyed everything he touched. Larry Nassar is the product of every coach whose ever told a gymnast he “didn’t want to hear it.” Larry Nassar is the result of years and years of verbal and physical abuse being normalized. Larry Nassar is the result of an entire sport working in the dark.
People are often taken aback by a lot of my stories from these times. But here’s the scary thing. Almost every single gymnast has these stories. Some girls, “the lucky ones,” get through their careers with little to no hiccups. They don’t get injured much. They don’t have mental blocks. They’re easy to coach, easy to love, easy to win with.
Those girls retired with a happy heart. They still love the sport, as they should.
But for every one of those, there are a hundred of me. A hundred girls who feel betrayed and angry. A hundred girls who were told to shut their mouths.
Gymnastics is fucked.
But nothing will change.
Not until every single coach is brought to light for their actions. Not until every single trainer is brought to light for their inactions. Not until every single gymnast can honestly say they feel safe to speak up. That won’t happen until the world puts the sport, not the organization, under the microscope.
Unfortunately, I don’t believe that will happen.
So I’m here to explain to you what it’s like to be an unlucky gymnast. How Larry Nassar was created. How most of us weren’t surprised by the news. How a lot of us actually saw it coming.
I was an elite athlete from the age of 10 through the age of 21. I had a long and mostly successful career. But it was also filled with so much poison. So many instances of my character and health being shot down.
So here I am. Furious. Because I know exactly what’s going on, and so should you.