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The following article appeared in TIME about Sara Teristi, now in her forties who survived the abuse by Larry Nassar and the equally devastating contribution by her coach John Geddert who watched but did nothing to stop it. Her article points out the ways in which men in power can conspire to protect one another's egregious behavior. It further points out that recovering from this type of abuse is not a matter of "not dwelling on the past" or "thinking positively." Rather it leaves wounds that may never be healed. Please contribute your comments!
Irina Rozovsky for TIME
By Abigail Pesta
July 18, 2019
Sara Teristi saw the making of a monster. She watched a man transform from doctor to predator, starting decades ago when he gained access to a gym full of little girls. She was one of those girls. She may have been his very first target.
She first met Larry Nassar–the most prolific known sex criminal in American sports history–at a gym in Michigan in late 1988. She was a young gymnast in a vulnerable state, she says, having been emotionally trampled by her hard-driving coach, John Geddert, a man who made her feel worthless. Nassar, who was volunteering as team doctor, zoomed in on her right away.
Now in her 40s, Sara tells me her story in a quiet courtyard of an art museum near her home in Raleigh, N.C. She is sharing her experience publicly for the first time, much of it recently pieced together after repressing the memories for decades, and she does not want to tell this tale in her house, around her two young sons. She remembers how Geddert created a culture of fear at the gym–shoving her, berating her, mocking her body–and how she lost her sense of self. She recalls that he watched while Nassar sexually abused her.
Today, she wears a metal knee brace from old gymnastics injuries. Physical pain is a part of her everyday life. Then there are the psychological scars. “People don’t understand how many broken girls it takes to produce an elite athlete,” she says, delivering the haunting words with the perfect posture of a gymnast. “A coach can easily go through 300 girls, or more.”
Sara has detailed the events in this story, piece by piece, to two police departments in Michigan, starting after Nassar’s sentencing in 2018, and has provided TIME with those reports. She is also participating in a mass tort suit against Nassar, Geddert and other individuals and institutions. Attorneys for Geddert did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations in this story. An attorney for Nassar said the former doctor is not doing interviews.
Nassar and Geddert worked together for nearly three decades at gyms in Michigan, rising to the top of the sport as Olympic doctor and coach. Geddert led the U.S. women’s team to win gold at the 2012 Olympics. All the while, Nassar abused hundreds of young women and girls while pretending to treat them. He is now behind bars, where he will spend the rest of his life. Dozens of officials have been ousted or charged with crimes in the case.
In 1984, when she was 10, her coach recommended that Sara try out for a prestigious club in Lansing called Great Lakes Gymnastics, where an ambitious coach in his late 20s, John Geddert, was gaining a reputation for training stellar athletes. Geddert, a former gymnast at Central Michigan University, had coached at a top club in Maryland, MarVaTeens Gymnastics, before returning to Michigan, where he grew up.
At high-level gymnastics clubs such as these, young athletes train to compete in state, national or international meets. They can get on track for a college scholarship. Or maybe, for a lucky few, the Olympics. Jordyn Wieber, who won team gold with the U.S. in 2012, grew up in a town just down the road from Dimondale. There is always the dream.
Sara wanted to go for it. She leaped and flipped her way through the tryouts, showing no fear. A few days later, she heard the news: she had been accepted. It was the happiest day of her young life.
Body weight was a stress point. The girls were weighed regularly at the gym. If they didn’t “make weight,” they were sentenced to run laps around the parking lot in their leotards. Sara remembers feeling humiliated, with cars driving by and honking, guys catcalling.
Sometimes Sara was ridiculed inside the gym as well. When she did handsprings, she had a hard time keeping her legs together because of a birth defect, she says. Geddert mocked her, making sexual jokes. “He said the boys would love me because I couldn’t keep my legs together,” she says. She felt mortified as he snickered, her face turning deep red.
Then one day, Larry Nassar walked in the door.
On his first day at Great Lakes Gymnastics, Nassar stood awkwardly as Geddert introduced him to the girls, describing him as a student in medical school at Michigan State. It was late 1988, and Nassar had come to volunteer at the gym. Sara’s first impression of the new doctor: “He was geeky, nerdy,” she says. “He had this Revenge of the Nerds laugh, and we all giggled about that.”
Nassar was building a résumé working with gymnasts. He had served as an athletic trainer for the U.S. National Team and had volunteered at both the Pan American Games and the Olympic trials. “He actively sought out situations where he could touch little girls all day,” says James White, a Lansing attorney who represents Sara and other survivors.
Sara thinks Nassar realized that the way to keep his access to the girls was to please Geddert. And the way to please Geddert was to clear the girls to keep training and competing while injured. “After that,” she says, “Larry went along with whatever John wanted.”
Sara has a difficult time discussing what happened next, but thinks it’s important to do so, she says, to help people understand how predators operate. At the time, she didn’t understand. Sexual abuse wasn’t on her radar. And neither was sex. She had never dated boys; there was no time for that, what with the demands of training and school. She knew only that the procedure was excruciating and that it felt endless. She didn’t tell anyone because she trusted that her doctor was performing a medical treatment.