“Fierce” Ch. 22

TW: SEXUAL ABUSE. There is nothing extremely graphic in this chapter, but the whole thing is basically Aly realizing that she is a victim of sexual abuse.

– In July 2015, Aly got a call from Steve Penny about a private investigator coming to talk to her. She told Steve that she didn’t have time because Nationals was right around the corner, but he insisted because she was team captain. He refused to tell her what it would be about. 

– The investigator (Fran) asked if Aly knew why she was here. Aly shook her head, and thought to herself “I hope this isn’t about Larry Nassar”. She dismissed the thought because she trusted him, he was nice, and he had tons of awards and recognition, so “The whispers couldn’t be true”.

– She didn’t realize how bad Larry was until she began seeing other doctors and therapists. With them, she would have towels draped over her hips and butt to ensure that there was no skin-to-skin contact, the massagers never crossed any lines, and she never felt uncomfortable. With Larry, her hands would ball into fists “as his ungloved hands worked their was under my clothing”. She would always feel tense and uncomfortable, and she dreaded being worked on by him. He never helped her injuries feel better but she always obeyed because of his reputation. Sometimes, he would close his eyes and seem out of breath while working on her, but she made excuses for him and thought he was just tired. She felt guilty for thinking badly of him.

– Larry would surprise the girls with treats (coffee, croissants, candy, etc) and she figured that he just wanted them to be normal teenagers. When she was alone with him and he was crossing a line, he’d distract her by saying how well she was doing in training. He made Aly feel like he understood her and like he was her friend.

– In March 2015 when Larry came to the ranch, he was negative about Aly’s chances at coming back. When she told him about his pains, he told her that she needed surgery. She was irritated and called him an idiot while talking to her mom about it. She impulsively said “I hate him. He’s so irritating. I wish he’d just go away”. It surprised Lynn because she had never said anything like that about Larry before.

– At the camps, the girls would talk about Larry and most of them thought that the way he touched them was strange, but “he did it to so many of us that we assumed, blindly, that he must know something we don’t”. 

– The girls would also talk about it openly in the gym. One of Aly’s teammates said that she didn’t understand how his treatments were supposed to fix pain, and she even asked Aly “Are you sure this is allowed?”. Another girl said that a lot of them thought it was weird, but “I feel like if it wasn’t okay he would’ve already been fired”. A female coach overheard them, and she spoke up and reported their conversation to a USAG official. A few months later, Nassar would retire from the national team. Aly and her mom reached out to USAG, who assured them that they were handling it and that they shouldn’t interfere.

– Aly didn’t want to speak to Fran because she wasn’t sure if she was wrong and Nassar was doing a legitimate practice, maybe people wouldn’t believe her or would think that she was doing it for attention, and if the media found out they would bring it up before she was ready to talk about it and before she could process it. She says that she’s still processing it today.

– Fran asked her questions about Nassar, and she answered as honestly as she could, but she began to make excuses for Larry. She told Fran that she was sure he was just trying to help and she didn’t think he had done it on purpose and he was so nice to them.

– After the interview, Aly began thinking about all the things she had gone through with Larry, and she started to put all the pieces together. She called a USAG official and told her everything that she remembered, and hours later, she got a text from someone telling her that she had to stop talking about Larry to protect herself. That night, she realized that they had all been manipulated, he knew exactly what he was doing, and he took advantage of everyone’s innocence, their trust in adults, and their desire to excel in gymnastics. She finally realized that she was a victim of sexual abuse and she felt sick.

– She wants to keep the specifics of what Larry did to her and the charges against him private. She’s sharing her story publicly in hopes that it might help someone who is going through the same thing realize what is happening to them.

– Aly wishes that someone had taught her about the warning signs of a sexual predator. She says that there is a stigma about sexual abuse that must be removed, and people have to learn that it is ok to speak up if you think that something is wrong. She notes that children are taught to watch out for strangers, but they should also be taught that abusers are often someone who the victim knows.