How Larry Nassar's Accusers Made Sports Safer For Everyone

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Arianna Castillo testified at Larry Nassar's sentencing hearing. (YouTube)
Arianna Castillo testified at Larry Nassar's sentencing hearing. (YouTube)

Arianna Castillo took the stand on the sixth day.

"When I had to approach the stand to talk, I was closer than I ever wanted to be to him again," Arianna says.

She walked up to the microphone, took a deep breath, and told the court what Larry Nassar had done to her.

"I started gymnastics at Twistars when I was about 3 years old. At the beginning I loved everything about it," she said in her testimony.

"I didn’t think it was weird, the placement of his hands, one on my hip and the other on my butt," she continued. "I just thought there was something wrong with my hip when you were feeling around on the inside of my thighs and it started hurting in my vaginal area – which — I assume you can all imagine what caused this."

"I was terrified, having to see him again. It was that feeling all over again," Arianna says now. "I tried my best to focus on the judge."

Arianna wasn’t alone in the courtroom that day. Over seven days, 155 other young women came forward, reading victim impact statements which detailed the abuse they endured at the hands of Larry Nassar, a sports medicine doctor who worked for Arianna’s gym – Twistars – USA Gymnastics, and Michigan State University.

"A lot of the girls, they came forward the year I was born. But everybody just kept blowing us off because we were young girls," Arianna says.

When the abuse happened, Arianna was 8 years old. She kept it bottled up, never  telling anyone, even her mother. But in that courtroom, she found the strength to tell her story for the first time.

"It took me a lot to want to speak out, but I figured, if I stayed silent, I’m only letting him win," Arianna told the court.

Nancy Hogshead-Makar is a long-time advocate for women in sports. (Alex Brandon/AP)
Nancy Hogshead-Makar is a long-time advocate for women in sports. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an Olympic gold medalist in swimming, watched from her home in Jacksonville, Florida.

"I was watching on live-stream, like most people were," Nancy says.

For Nancy, this was personal. She’s a former Olympic swimmer and a civil rights lawyer, and she’d been following this story since long before most people had heard the name Larry Nassar.

"So the story really began to surface in the summer of 2016," Nancy remembers. "Right before the 2016 Rio Olympics is when USA Gymnastics starts getting called out for how it was handling sexual abuse. So, at first, it was not a Larry Nassar story. It was a USA Gymnastics not taking care of athletes story. And I've been involved in that story since 2010."

That’s when Nancy first started working with the U.S. Olympic committee to try to better protect athletes from sexual abuse.

"I thought that if they only knew how bad it was out there, that surely they would do something about it," Nancy says. "And it took me a while to wise up that no, no, no. They know exactly how bad it is, and they want this system because it saves them a ton of money."

So as Nancy watched Larry Nassar’s accusers stand up in court, she didn’t see victims. She saw young women who embodied what it meant to be a survivor.

"I was so impressed with how vulnerable they were and at the same time how strong they were," she says. "I could recognize myself, frankly, in a lot of their stories."

One of those stories was the one Arianna Castillo told on the stand on the sixth day.

'Gut-Punch Of A Feeling'

When Arianna began training at Twistars, an elite Michigan gymnastics club, she was surrounded by some of the best gymnasts in the U.S., including future Olympian Jordyn Wieber.

"I always looked up to the older girls that were there. I think that was just, like, my main goal is to be just like them," Arianna recalls.

Arianna was a very independent child. She traveled with her team to Indianapolis, Chicago, and Texas.

That all started to change when Arianna was 8.

"I was up on the coach's knees being stretched for my middle splits," she remembers. "We heard a noise like something cracking, and, you know, I just kind of wrote it off as my back cracking. Because that's exactly what it sounded like. I noticed it felt weird to walk a little bit afterwards. They just thought I had pulled a muscle or something. So I just kept going. And it wasn't until I got to my leap passes that I fell on the floor, and I wasn't able to get up. That's when I really knew something was wrong."

Arianna went to the ER. They took X-rays and diagnosed her with a fractured hip. But when she went back to Twistars, her coach didn’t believe her.

"He thought I was faking in order to get out of conditioning or doing any work at the gym," Arianna says. "It kind of felt like a slap in the face, you know? Here I am with an injury, and they don't want to believe me."

Arianna’s coaches sent her to see Larry Nassar. She trusted him.

"He came off as a really nice guy — really sweet," she says. "All of the older girls in my gym, they went to see him. So I kind of felt like them in an aspect.

"I just felt honored to be able to see him because he was the top doctor in the sport".

"It sounds like he also made you feel really safe, like you were in good hands," I say.

"Oh yeah, definitely," she replies. "He made all of us feel special, in a way."

After seeing Nassar a few times in his office with her mother present, Arianna felt mature enough to get treatment alone.

"I told her she could stay out in the lobby, and I would just be right back," she remembers.

Then the abuse started.

"He would say that I needed to go through pain in order to be successful, and that was just part of it," Arianna describes. "So I just took it as, 'He's the doctor. I should listen to him.'

"After that appointment I went and told my mom that he just made me feel super uncomfortable. I didn't really know how to put it into words, exactly what he was doing. But after that I stopped seeing him at the office. But, you know, I still had to see him at my gym, too."

Nassar worked as the trainer on Monday nights at Twistars. Coaches sent Arianna to see him for treatment in an enclosed area in a back room. Should Arianna refuse treatment, she could face retribution from her coaches.

"Every time I had to see him, I just had this gut-punch of a feeling," she says. "I didn't know how to put it into words, so I just kept telling myself that, 'It's nothing, it's just me being 8. I'm immature. I just wouldn't know better.'"

When she was 10 or 11, Arianna left Twistars and found another gym. She wanted to have fun again. But...

"It was still hurting – my hip was always in pain," she says. "And I figured if I continued on with the sport, I would just end up having to see a doctor again or having to be referred to him. I just wanted to do anything in my power to not have to go back there or see him ever again."

Arianna stopped competing around age 12. But Nassar had taken away more than just her love of the sport.

"I didn't feel as confident as I once had before," she says. "I didn't feel as mature as I did before, either, because I just always wanted my parents around no matter what."

"So you felt like you needed protection again?" I ask.

"Yeah, that's how I felt all the time, and, you know, I still feel that today," Arianna replies.

'Nancy, Just Come Home'

Nancy Hogshead-Makar was a sophomore on a swimming scholarship at Duke University when sexual assault changed her life. The year was 1981.

"It was the first day of Thanksgiving break, and I was in town because, of course, I was training," Nancy remembers. "This guy starts running towards me, kind of slowly. And I was uncomfortable enough that I started running into the street instead of running on the sidewalk."

As she tried to run past him, the man pulled Nancy into the woods. For over two hours, he sexually assaulted her. But when she started to cry, she realized that could be her escape.

"I could tell that he liked it. And so, I started to cry more," she says. "I felt like the whole point of this was to really degrade me, and damage me, and to humiliate me until I was sort of at rock bottom. And then he was done."

The man finally let Nancy go. She ran to the police and filed a report. But they never caught her rapist.

"There for a while I had to stop swimming, because I couldn't let my mind wander," she says. "I really had to keep a tight rein on my thoughts. If I let them wander at all, it just would move into pure panic. And I just couldn't do that and swim. So they red-shirted me. So they let me keep my scholarship, even though I didn't swim.

"I got into two car accidents right away — bang, bang. And after the second car accident, my parents were, like, 'Nancy, just come home.' Just – I'm gonna cry now…They said, 'Just buy a ticket when you get there. Don't pack. Don't anything. Just drive to the airport. Just get home.' So I did."

After taking some time off, Nancy started to ease back into swimming. It was there she began to find healing and remnants of her old self.

"So when you won your three golds at the Olympics, was there any moment where you thought, like, 'Wow, I can't believe I overcame all of this pain to get to this moment that I achieved this?' I ask.

"Yeah, I think that's a great way to put it," Nancy says. "I had lots of those moments. And at the time I wish that I had had my act more together — to be able to talk about having been raped — when I won at the Olympics. But I really didn't. I couldn't talk about it at that time. I mean, I'm 55 years old. And I just broke down and cried. So you can imagine."

The Entire System Needed To Change

After the Olympics, Nancy realized that she could use her platform as an Olympic medalist to advocate for women in sports. She attended law school at Georgetown and began working on behalf of athletes who had been sexually abused by their coaches. That’s when she discovered that the USOC and other sports governing bodies were hiding behind something called the “No Duty Rule.” It’s a legal doctrine that says that a person – or organization – has no “duty” to protect another, even from obvious harm.

"As opposed to, let's say I tell you, 'Anya, this is a very dangerous intersection. Let me help you across the street.' Now you're hit by a car, now you can sue me, right? Now I'm liable," Nancy says. "So, United States Olympic Committee were doing that exact same thing. They knew it was a dangerous intersection, they watched person after person getting hit by a car, and they weren't doing anything."

Nancy realized the entire system needed to change.

"Over the years, I wrote the policies – child protection policies that the national governing bodies and the USOC should enact," she says. "And I got blocked on virtually every step of the way."

That’s until more than 250 women came forward to accuse Larry Nassar of sexual abuse.

By this time, Arianna Castillo was 20, but she still hadn’t told her family what had happened to her.

"And what was that moment like for you after you had finished reading your story in court?" I asked.

"It brought me a bit closer to everybody. I don't think they really knew what I was struggling with," Arianna says. "It made me feel happy to know that someone was listening finally."

Nancy Hogshead-Makar had spent most of a decade trying to get people to listen to her concerns about how little was being done to protect athletes. She even helped design legislation to close the loophole. It’s called the Safe Sport Act.

"So the Safe Sport Act does what tort lawyers could not do, which is it gives the Olympic Committee a duty of care. It requires them to protect athletes from sexual abuse," Nancy describes.

Sponsored by Senator Dianne Fienstein, the Safe Sport Act passed the Senate in November of 2017. But even after hundreds of women had come forward to accuse Nassar, the measure was stalled in the House.

"What changed the world was when those victims came forward and started talking," Nancy says. "And when they – one after another — that was live-streamed, that you had a judge who validated every one of those stories. Those athletes were not only believed that it happened, but they were also believed in the depth of the emotional harm that this guy caused them."

The House voted to make the Safe Sports Act a law on Jan. 30, just one week after Arianna Castillo and 155 other women gave their victim impact statements against Larry Nassar. Only three Congressmen voted against it: Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Justin Amash of Michigan, and Mark Sanford of South Carolina.

"Can you tell me a little bit about the moment, though, when you did get the Safe Sport Act signed into law?" I ask.

"So the first person I saw afterwards, I was working upstairs and I went downstairs and my son is there, and he's 17 years old. And I just, like, wept into his chest, and he was just so sweet," Nancy says. "I was working so hard right before it got passed and I was, like, 'Look, kids. I know I'm not winning any Mother of the Year Awards, but I promise you that you're going to be proud of me.' And we made it happen.

"This is huge. This is as big as Title IX getting passed. Every time I think about it for the rest of my life, I'm going to feel good about that."

Athletes and their families can learn more about how to report a concern at

This segment aired on April 28, 2018.



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