The Girls by Abigail Pesta

The Olympics are fun to watch, there is no denying that. Every two years, my wife and I grab disgusting fast food and watch elite athletes parade through the opening ceremonies. Some of these athletes become household names overnight.

We relish blissful smiles of achievement and victory. We celebrate the tears of joys and the awarding of medals. But what we don’t see is the long, difficult journey to the Olympics. We don’t see the grueling training sessions. The early mornings. The late nights. The non-existent weekends. The broken bones and torn ligaments.

We don’t see the pain or the suffering. And at times, the pain and suffering of elite athleticism are not simply bruised bones or muscle aches. The pain is something more.

This book is about unimaginable pain. Pain that was unnecessary and inflicted not just by one man, or two men, but a culture that failed to protect.

John Geddert, Larry Nassar, and the system are the three main antagonists in this book. Neither one could have existed without the other.

Geddert was the coach. He was abusive and cruel. His supporters probably would have labeled him strict or a perfectionist; a coach that demanded only the best from his gymnasts. But he was dangerous, he forced gymnasts to perform with horrible injuries. When they failed he hurled equipment and disgusting insults with ease. To Geddert, these gymnasts were not humans but objects for winning.

Nassar was the doctor. He was kind and caring. He was the complete complement to Geddert. Gymnasts, at first, were glad to be with Nassar. He provided kindness and compassion these gymnasts so desperately needed. But that is how Nassar gained their trust. For decades, Nassar sexually assaulted hundreds of girls under the guise of a medical procedure. To Nassar, these gymnasts were not humans but objects for his pleasure.

Some gymnasts were not silent about Geddert and Nassar. They reported their coach and doctor to parents, police, and governing bodies, but nothing happened. In some cases, the gymnasts were not believed (even by their parents). In other cases, the police didn’t do their due diligence or the governing bodies did not want to tarnish their reputation. The system failed.

I know there are numerous documentaries, television news magazine episodes, and articles written about the USA Gymnastics sex abuse scandal. And I would say, the ones I have watched have been well produced and informative. This book focuses on the stories of the survivors. It doesn’t attempt to sensationalize the narrative. It doesn’t try to humanize Geddert or Nassar. It simply wants to tell you the stories of the survivors. What they experienced and how they survived.

It’s definitely gut-wrenching. But I think books like this help. We cannot undo the past, but what we can do is provide a better tomorrow, by creating a better system. A system that allows athletes to thrive and prevents Gedderts and Nassars from existing.

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