'It's Up To All Of Us': Parents Of Young Gymnasts Respond To Nassar Abuse Scandal | KUOW News and Information

'It's Up To All Of Us': Parents Of Young Gymnasts Respond To Nassar Abuse Scandal

Jan 27, 2018
Originally published on January 27, 2018 1:39 pm

On a busy weeknight at Silver Stars Gymnastics in Silver Spring, Md., toddlers tumble across the mats and older gymnasts run drills.

The lobby bustles with kids getting ready for classes or heading home; many beg for popsicles from an irresistible cooler right outside the gym. The walls are lined with sparkly new leotards and lots of trophies. Parents and babysitters chat or work on laptops.

The waiting parents are willing to talk to a reporter despite the uncomfortable subject matter: former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar, who this week received a 40 to 175 year sentence for sexual abuse. Nassar pled guilty to seven counts of sexual misconduct, and during his sentencing hearing more than 150 women testified that Nassar abused them while he was supposed to be treating their injuries.

Sari Weiner, whose 6-year-old daughter has taken classes at Silver Stars for about three years, says the Nassar story is awful and she's long felt uneasy about the sport for other reasons. But the news won't change her family's routine.

"My opinions of gymnastics have not really changed. I've always thought that the competitive nature of the sport is extremely messed up," Weiner says. "I think it is just unconscionable how long it went on and how nobody spoke up about it. But if my daughter is compulsively doing cartwheels all over the house, I'm going to put her in gymnastics for as long as she's having fun."

Other parents here say the sport helps their kids burn off energy and gain confidence.

Cara Altimus brings her 3-year-old daughter here once a week to have fun and get stronger. She says the Nassar story doesn't really feel connected to her experience at Silver Stars, despite a disturbing incident last year, when a father planted a small spy camera in a bathroom.

Altimus says the center handled the camera incident well. "There was a lot of a communication, quite a bit of community outreach and classes on keeping children safe, and their staff has re-upped their training on community safety of children," she says.

Most parents in the waiting area have very young children taking recreational classes. Parents of the competitive gymnasts who are here multiple times a week don't tend to hang around for practices.

But there are a few who stay, including Valentino Iordache. His daughter made the prep team, USA Gymnastics Level 1, where young athletes learn the skills they'll need to compete.

To him, the sexual abuse scandal isn't about gymnastics, and that's what he's told his daughter.

"We told her that there are crazy people in this world and she needs to know about it," Iordache says. "Gymnastics has nothing to do with a bad incident here or there — it's a great sport at the end of the day."

Lowrey Redmond's 8-year-old daughter is on the same team. For her family, the Nassar story has resonated.

"My oldest daughter Adele — gymnastics is her life," Redmond says. "She's kind of a mature 8-year-old so I knew that she could handle talking about some of this. I didn't tell her the details. She knows that a lot of girls and women stood up for what's right, and they're gymnasts just like her. And her first reaction was 'Mom, that's really cool.' "

Her 5-year-old daughter, Mabel, does gymnastics at Silver Stars too, so they're here a lot.

"I thought maybe I would be worried about this being always a problem and systemic and our girls are never going to be in a safe place," she says. "But it's up to all of us to keep coming into the gym and [holding] the adults in charge accountable."

They're a gymnastics family. Lowrey Redmond says she won't let Larry Nassar take that away from them.

Copyright 2018 WAMU 88.5. To see more, visit WAMU 88.5.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The fallout continues over the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal. USA Gymnastics said on Friday that its entire board of directors will resign. More than 150 women have testified that Nassar, former doctor of the U.S. gymnastics team, sexually abused them while he was supposed to be treating their injuries. We wondered how families of younger gymnasts may feel about this story, and we sent WAMU's Selena Simmons-Duffin to a training center in Silver Spring, Md.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: It's a busy weeknight at Silver Stars. Inside the huge gymnasium, toddlers tumble, and the serious older kids run drills.

The walls of the lobby are lined with sparkly new leotards. Parents and babysitters chat or work and fend off requests for popsicles. There's a cooler cruelly placed right outside the gym.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Ice cream. Can you buy one of those?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It's going to melt all over.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Most parents here are willing to talk - even about Nassar and this difficult moment for USA Gymnastics. Sari Weiner has been bringing her 6-year-old daughter here on and off for about three years.

SARI WEINER: I've always thought that the competitive nature of the sport is extremely messed up. I think it is just like unconscionable how long it went on and how nobody spoke up about it. But if my daughter is, like, compulsively doing cartwheels all over the house, I'm going to put her in gymnastics for as long as she's having fun.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Many of the parents here are enthusiastic about gymnastics. Their kids get to work off energy, gain confidence.

CARA ALTIMUS: I still really love it for my daughter.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Cara Altimus brings her 3-year-old here to get stronger and have fun. She's been following the Nassar story but says it doesn't really feel connected to her experience at Silver Stars. But there was actually an issue here over the summer. A father put a small spy camera in the bathroom.

ALTIMUS: I thought the studio handled it very well. So there was a lot of communication, and their staff has re-upped their training on community safety of children.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Most parents I find in the waiting area are like Altimus. Their kids are little and here to play. Parents of the competitive gymnasts who are here multiple times a week mostly just drop them off and come back when practice is over. But there are a few who stay.

VALENTINO IORDACHE: My name is Valentino Iordache. It's Romanian - so gymnastics, Romania (laughter).

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: His daughter made the team USA Gymnastics level 1, where they learn the skills they'll need to compete. To him, the sexual abuse scandal isn't about gymnastics, and that's what he told his daughter.

IORDACHE: I told her that there are crazy people in this world, and she needs to know about it. Gymnastics has nothing to do with a bad incident here or there.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Lowrey Redmond's 8-year-old daughter is on the same team. For her family, the Nassar story has been a big deal.

LOWREY REDMOND: My oldest daughter, Adele, gymnastics is her life. She's kind of a mature 8-year-old, so I knew that she could handle talking about some of this. I didn't tell her the details. She knows that a lot of girls and women stood up for what's right and they're gymnasts just like her. And her first reaction was - Mom, that's really cool.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Her 5-year-old daughter Mabel does gymnastics at Silver Stars, too. So they're here a lot.

REDMOND: I thought maybe I would be worried about this being systemic and, you know, our girls are never going to be in a safe place. But it's up to all of us to keep coming into the gym and making the adults in charge - hold them accountable.

Hi.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Mabel walks up to Redmond as we talk. She's ready to go home while her sister stays to practice for another hour. They bundle up and head out into the cold evening.

REDMOND: Does Adele love gymnastics?

MABEL: Yes.

REDMOND: What about you?

MABEL: Yes.

REDMOND: Yes.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: They're a gymnastics family, and she won't let Larry Nassar take that away from them.

For NPR News, I'm Selena Simmons-Duffin in Silver Spring, Md. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.