Michigan was ground zero for a scandal rocked the world of gymnastics and revealed widespread athlete abuse in the sport. In January 2018, hundreds of young women delivered blistering impact statements at the sentencing hearings for serial pedophile Larry Nassar in Ingham and Eaton County courtrooms.
Michigan State University, USA Gymnastics, and the U.S. Olympic Committee were all called out for failing to protect young athletes. Private gyms and coaches across the country have also been investigated for abusive behavior.
Valorie Kondos Field has seen the long-term damage young gymnasts can suffer. She began coaching elite gymnasts in 1982 when she arrived at the University of California - Los Angeles.
Field says she spent years at UCLA "picking up the pieces" and helping damaged young women heal. She also made it her mission to help them find joy in their sport once again.
Field says the strength and courage of the Nassar survivors who spoke at the sentencing hearings was visible to every person watching.
“They’ve taught us that regardless of how much strife a human being has gone through, that when they start fueling and listening to their own inner voice, it is so powerful that they can then speak their truth with confidence, courage, grit, and poise," said Field.
In January of 2018, Field wrote a powerful essay. In it, she wrote that while Nassar himself is a "mentally deranged pedophile," he is not the head of the "monster." Rather, it was the lack of consideration given to young women's voices within the culture of USA Gymnastics that created the opportunity for someone like Nassar to do so much damage.
When people say, How did he get access to so many young girls? it's very simple: We only cared about winning, and we didn't take into consideration asking the young athletes how they were feeling, Field said.
Even after these series of systematic failures, Field says that gymnastics is still a powerful tool for learning how to focus in a way that school or everyday life cannot. She wants to see gymnastics promote joy and the construction of the whole person, not just the athlete. Field says her goal was always to develop “champions of life through sport."
This post was written by production assistant Catherine Nouhan.