"I would grit my teeth, trying to convince myself that all this was part of the healing process," Aly Raisman writes
Aly Raisman‘s undeniable talent and grace under pressure at two consecutive Olympics made her a role model to young athletes around the world, but it’s what she endured behind the scenes that makes her journey to becoming a gold-medal-winning gymnast all the more inspiring.
In her autobiography Fierce, which is excerpted exclusively in the new issue of PEOPLE, Raisman opens up about the sexual abuse she says she received at the hands of former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar.
“When I lay on my stomach to have my hamstrings worked on, towels were draped over my hips and buttocks for privacy and to ensure that there was no inappropriate skin-to-skin contact. They never, ever crossed any lines in where they massaged.
“And there was never a moment when their methods made me uncomfortable. It was different with Larry. I would lie on the table, my hands involuntarily balling themselves into fists as his ungloved hands worked their way under my clothing. ‘Treatment sessions’ with him always made me feel tense and uncomfortable.”
“I would grit my teeth,” she writes, “trying to convince myself that all this was part of the healing process. The truth was he never made my injuries feel any better, but I always obeyed because he had a reputation for being the best doctor.
“Because I spent so much time training, traveling, and competing, I was very sheltered and innocent. That’s probably why I didn’t question why Larry would sometimes close his eyes or seem out of breath when he worked on me. More than once I would make excuses for his strange behavior. ‘He must be tired from a long day,’ I would think, and wonder why he made me so uncomfortable. I felt guilty for thinking badly of someone everyone else liked.”
“…It turned out that I wasn’t the only one feeling uncomfortable,” she continues. “Over the years, among the girls who were invited to camps, there was some talk of Larry and his ‘treatment methods.’ Most of us thought the way he touched us was weird. But he did it to so many of us that we assumed, blindly, that he must know something we didn’t…”
More than 130 women, including fellow Fierce Fiver McKayla Maroney, have accused Nassar of sexual assault — many filing civil lawsuits alleging that Nassar sexually abused them under the guise of treating them for hip, back and other athletic injuries. He was fired by USA Gymnastics in 2015 after working with the organization since 1986 — he had been its national medical coordinator since 1996, the New York Times reported. He was fired from Michigan State last year.
Nassar is in jail now, facing several charges related to the alleged abuse. In July, he pleaded guilty to three child pornography charges in federal court, ABC News reported via ESPN. In exchange for Nassar’s guilty plea, U.S. prosecutors have agreed not to pursue charges in two additional incidents of alleged sexual crimes with minors. He is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court on Dec. 7, according to the Lansing State Journal.
Lawyers for Nassar declined PEOPLE’s request for comment.
“The last few months have not been easy for me,” Raisman, who hopes to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, tells PEOPLE. “There have been some days where I feel so much anxiety and I feel sick. I’ve never really had that before. It’s just nerve wracking because you don’t know how people are going to react.”
“I want to create change,” she adds. “No one deserves to be hurt or taken advantage of.”
In a statement Sunday, Team USA Gymnastics said in part: “We are appalled by the conduct of which Larry Nassar is accused, and we are very sorry that any athlete has been harmed during her or his gymnastics career.
“Aly’s passion and concern for athlete safety is shared by USA Gymnastics. Our athletes are our priority, and we are committed to promoting an environment of empowerment that encourages speaking up, especially on difficult topics like abuse, as well the protection of athletes at all levels throughout our gymnastics community.
“We are hard at work to strengthen that commitment by: adopting the USA Gymnastics Safe Sport Policy; hiring a new president and chief executive officer who emphasizes empowerment throughout the organization; building a safe sport department that is developing a comprehensive education plan for members; and creating an implementation plan for the recommendations made by an experienced, former federal prosecutor who carefully examined the organization’s past policies.”
The statement concluded: “We are committed to doing what is right, and we want to work with Aly and all interested athletes to keep athletes safe.”