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Nassar Survivor On How USA Gymnastics Handled Abuse Crisis

Dec 28, 2018
Originally published on December 28, 2018 5:58 am
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

It's been a turbulent year for USA Gymnastics. Back in January, dozens of women testified in a Michigan courtroom. They talked about years of sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of a prominent doctor, Larry Nassar. Trinea Gonczar was one of those women.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRINEA GONCZAR: This latest year has traumatized me in ways you cannot even begin to imagine, as I've had to realize I was abused for many years of my life. And this, my old friend, is because of you.

KING: Nassar was sentenced to decades in prison and a succession of USA Gymnastics CEOs have since stepped down. Then, this month, the organization filed for bankruptcy. I talked to Trinea Gonczar and I asked her how she thinks USA Gymnastics is handling all of this.

GONCZAR: I mean, I think that they've completely crumbled to their feet. I don't think that they've done anything but make one bad decision after another and completely ruin the name of the sport and the organization. It looks worse and worse every time that they make these kind of decisions.

KING: If someone from the organization was to call you and say, Trinea, what should we do? - what would you tell them to do?

GONCZAR: Meet me. Talk to me. Meet with us. Talk to us. Learn about us. You know, I think that there is something to be said about character when you actually just say, we were wrong. How do we make this better?

KING: You're saying, essentially, an apology would go a long way toward starting to heal this thing.

GONCZAR: Truly, that is all we have ever wanted from anyone, ever.

KING: Despite all of this, the U.S. women's team did really well at the world championships in Qatar a couple months ago in October. Simone Biles, the top gymnast in the world, keeps on dominating the sport. When you see the U.S. team compete and do well, how do you feel about that?

GONCZAR: So proud. So, so proud. I mean, they've gone through the trenches at this stage. And to continue to fight? You know, I think there's one thing about being a gymnast. Like, we're trained to face fear. So he picked on, essentially, the worst group of athletes to do something like this, too, because we're so focused, and we're so taught how to overcome fear.

And I think USAG and United States Gymnastics being the powerhouse that we are, I think, just, I mean, speaks so loudly of the survivors of this case and the sport. I mean, we're little, but we're mighty. But it's when they go out of competition and that door closes, unfortunately, is when you actually see the heartbreak. And that's truly the reality for all survivors.

KING: Let's talk about you as an individual for a moment because I know that you've taken on sort of a role in the past year as an advocate, as an activist. But you suffered very greatly as a young woman and as a girl. Your testimony at Larry Nassar's trial was powerful. It was also agonizing. You talked for about 17 minutes. You said that, for many years, you had defended him. And you said that he was your friend. We're going to play a little bit of that tape, Trinea.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GONCZAR: I never doubted you. I never felt scared of you. We loved you like family. We believed you looked out for us and protected us from harm. We literally loved you like family.

KING: What did it mean for you to have the chance to talk directly to him in open court?

GONCZAR: Well, that moment, for me, was 1000 percent between he and I. It was a moment that the world saw that was extremely heartbreaking for me and, to be honest, heartbreaking for him. I never understood that this person could be the same person as the person that did this to all these girls and did so much harm. But now, as I go forward, I can understand, for these other amazing ladies and athletes and women, how this ruined a part of their life because they didn't know him the same fashion that I knew him.

KING: Your last words to Larry Nassar in court were, goodbye, Larry. May God bless your dark, broken soul. When he went to prison, did you find closure?

GONCZAR: For me, no. For a lot of the other girls, it was a closure. For me, it was an opener. I had really not been able to start the healing process because I was still - I was very pregnant and really trying to understand what was happening. So for me, those words were the beginning of my journey, and it's been a long one.

KING: Trinea Gonczar, thank you so much for joining us.

GONCZAR: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it so much.

KING: Trinea Gonczar works for Wayne County SAFE. They work with sexual assault survivors in and around Detroit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.