I started gymnastics when I was eight.
My dad was a gymnast, but he never pressured me to try it. I just decided one day that I wanted to and fell in love with it.
I remember on my first day I fell on my face and the teacher was like, ‘Oh my gosh, are you okay?’ And I just got right back up and tried again.
I absolutely loved it. I still do. I competed for ten years and then coached for another five.
For me, gymnastics was freedom to express myself through my body. I felt like I could do things that I couldn't before and being able to learn new things was such a big part of my journey in the sport.
My favorite aerial was floor. I was always a tumbler. I was a bit of a bigger gymnast, so it was hard for me to do things like bars and balance beam. But on floor I felt like I could be very powerful. I always had a lot of bounce. And everyone used to make comments that I had a lot of air and I was able to get a lot of power.
It was incredible, that feeling.
But there are other feelings tied to the gym that are less positive for me.
When I was 16, I met the man that assaulted me. I was at a gymnastics camp. He was my friend's coach. And I thought he was really cool. He would hang out with us and talk to us about personal issues and stuff like that. I didn’t think anything of it. I thought he was a really good ear to go to.
His gym ended up being the sister gym to mine and so he would come and visit and he would bring the young athletes he was training. I was friends with some of them, so we would hang out.
I just had this very positive opinion of him. And I absolutely trusted him. I think that's what made the experience harder.
I went to that camp two years in a row, and then I worked at it one year when I got older. He was there both times I was a camp participant. He would check in on me, like, “Hey, how's it going?” I was in a romantic relationship at the time with one of his students, one of my peers, and he was very interested in that. He was always asking me questions about my relationship.
When I was 20, he contacted me on Instagram and offered me a job as a gymnastics coach. The assault happened on my first day.
I was shadowing a class and he pulled me away, saying, “I want to talk to Coach for a minute.” And then he just sat there talking with me for like an hour. His questions started out normal. “What is your major in school? How are you doing?” And then he started talking about my ex-boyfriend. “Oh, I told what's-his-name that he was stupid for letting you go. You were always so great. I told him you were valuable.” Stuff like that.
Then it got into my sexual relationships: “Are you internally or externally pleased?”
In my mind, I thought, Oh, I'm an adult now and he just wants to talk to me about these things. I’ve always been a very open person about my personal life with my friends. I never held anything back. So I thought it was him communicating with me like friends would.
And then it just escalated so fast. It went from 0 to 100 in the matter of three hours. It went from him asking me about school and my life to him being like, “Hey, I want to take you away for a second.”
I was watching the trampoline area and he told the kids, “I'm going to close down this area so I can take Coach somewhere.” He was my supervisor. I asked, “Where are you going to take me?”
He said, “I'm just going to go in the office. I don't know if the door locks.” In my mind, I was like, What? But I didn't think he was going to do anything to me.
When I got in the office, he tried to lock the door, but it wouldn't lock. He said, “Okay, we'll just leave it closed” and he asked me to try on a leotard without a bra. He said he was sending it to a friend of his that was the same body type as me but a little bit bustier, and he asked me to tell him how it fit.
It turned physical after that. He told me he had an open relationship with his fiancé and was like, “Let me show you a few things that I've learned over the years.” Then he started putting me in sex positions with my clothes on.
In the moment, I couldn’t process what was happening. I completely froze. I didn't say a word. He was like, “Let me show you this next. Let me show you this next.”
I remember just feeling so numb. I knew something bad was happening, but I couldn't put it into words at the time.
Something in the back of my mind told me to get out of there, so I made the excuse that I had to go to my other job. I was also working in a restaurant.
And he was like, “Okay, I'll see you tomorrow.”
He acted like everything's fine. Like nothing weird had just happened. It was just completely normal to him.
I very vividly remember walking out of there and feeling sick to my stomach. I knew something bad had just happened, so I called a friend and I told her. She said to call the police. But I was too much in a state of shock.
When I got to my restaurant job, I told another friend and she said the same thing: call the police. But I just went about my shift like nothing had happened. I carried on. The word sexual assault hadn't hit me yet.
I continued to work with him for about two or three weeks after that. I felt triggered and nervous around him. I felt shaky, but I just continued as if everything was normal. It wasn't until one my friends there told me there were sexual harassment claims against him that I started to come to terms what had happened.
Apparently he had been saying inappropriate things to other women at the gym and texting minors and stuff like that. He’d asked another young woman to try on a leotard without a bra in the office, too. Looking back, you wonder, did he have cameras in there? I don't know.
When I told this friend what had happened to me, she said, “You need to report it to the gym. He's not safe for children. This isn't okay. We need to get him out of here.”
And that’s when it hit home for me that I needed to do something. I coach young children. I didn't want them to be victims if I let this man continue to work with young girls. And if something like that happened to them, I would want them to stand up and speak about it. I wanted to be a role model for them.
So I reached out to the director at the gym, and I told her what had happened. She asked me to file a formal report. I remember it distinctly. That night, I had class—it was a deaf class—and I had to sign out in sign language “I've been sexually assaulted” to my professor. She just stopped me and was like, “Oh my gosh, it's okay. Take whatever time you need.” And gave me a hug.
I used that three hour period to write up my story and emailed it in, and he was immediately suspended following that.
At that point, I had made the report but I still hadn’t processed the assault. It finally hit me when he texted me, “Hey, I'm losing my job. Can you please help me?” I was at my restaurant job and I just had a complete breakdown in the back. My friend and my boss ended up finishing all the closing work for me so I could get out of there.
The gym made a report to SafeSport, so there were a lot of questions and interviews as they did their investigation. It’s still going on.
I went to law enforcement too, but they gave me the cold shoulder. They told me that because my perpetrator was not around me at the moment, then you're not in immediate danger and you don't need to be calling 911. It was really hard to hear that, so I never pursued legal action again.
But I didn’t feel safe. That experience took a toll on me. And it was a long time before I felt okay.
When I moved into my college dorm, I was on suicide watch. I was not in a good place. I struggled with substance abuse after the incident. I just wanted to black out and not feel anything anymore. To forget it all happened.
And I went through a period of giving myself to the wrong people, which I don't feel like is talked about enough. After sexual trauma, you’re just trying to regain your power. I wanted to control who I was with and not have somebody force themselves on me. So I made some bad decisions along the way, and I got judged a lot for going out and partying. People were in my ear, “Oh, she's doing this, doing that. She's with this person, she's with that person,” which made me feel worse about myself.
But it's nothing that I wouldn't do again because it led me to where I am now. There's no right or wrong way to cope with sexual assault. There’s no guidebook. That's something that I had to come to terms with. And once I did, once I became accepting of myself and my decisions and everything I've been through and what led me here, I found peace.
I’m in a much better place now.
I’m engaged. My fiancé is the most supportive person. When I met him, I was drinking heavily and he got me to stop doing that and helped me find healthier coping mechanisms. And he understands my trauma. I have issues being touched still to this day where sometimes I just freeze and I get scared and I'm like, “Please don't.”
Once I got into the right headspace and got school figured out and work and who I was and what I wanted to be, it all came together. Now, I feel like everything worked out the way it was supposed to.
But the healing is still ongoing.
It's been five years and my SafeSport case is still open. That's hard to handle. I want closure. I just want to be able to close this chapter and move forward. For me, I feel like what I went through should have been enough to make a point that this man is dangerous and he needs to not work with children again. But here we are.
I think what’s helped me the most is talking about it. The more I talk about my experience, the more comfortable I got with it. That's what led me here. Because the more I expressed what I was going through and the hurt that he caused me, the more I realized I wasn't alone. A lot of people have gone through it. And most people I talked to had a similar story. That was the sad part about it: realizing how many people are victims of crimes like this.
So I keep talking about it and I keep working on my healing.
I work at a mental health hotline now. I practice and preach self-care on a daily basis in almost every conversation I have because that’s helped me too. Just taking care of myself and remembering that I'm worthy, I'm valuable and trying to come up with ways to express my emotions that aren't negative coping mechanisms.
If there is one thing I want other survivors to know it’s that how you cope is your journey and just handle things how you feel appropriate and don’t listen to all the outside voices. Because like I said, there's no right or wrong way to do it.
But most of all, know that it gets better. It really does. You’ve just got to keep pushing. It’s hard. And it's going to shape you for the rest of your life. But you get to decide what you do with it: you can either let the trauma run away with you, or you can make something of it.
You can tell your story.