Safe4Athletes

The following stories have been submitted by athletes who wanted to voice their stories. Note that some stories are anonymous, with the identity of the writer not revealed and there is never a mention of the names of others who could be identified.
If you wish to submit a story for consideration in this section,  CLICK HERE

  1. Annabelle Cripps - An Olympic Swimmer Speaks – Raped by Her Coach at the Age of 14
  2. All-American Gymnast – From Love of Sport to a Culture of Abuse
  3. Doe Yamashiro - a National Team Gymnast that didn’t have a voice to speak up at the time, speaks up NOW

Annabelle Cripps - An Olympic Swimmer Speaks – Raped by Her Coach at the Age of 14
As Annabelle Cripps, I started swimming at a very young age and showed promise from my first stroke in the pool. I won just about every race growing up setting many state records that still stand today. My desire to be a champion swimmer was not just from me but my parents supported my dream too.

My swimming career continued to show a lot of promise and at the young age of 14 I was world ranked for the first time. I wish that was all that happened to me that year. However, a month or two after experiencing that achievement I was also raped by my swim coach. As I continued to excel in sport, making two Olympic teams (Great Britain), so did the sexual harassment and abuse. I was often portrayed on the pool deck as the “troubled kid” when I fought back from the abuse. All the while, my coach, the head Olympic coach for my country, gained power and prestige.

There was no protection from the adults around me and nowhere for me to turn to for help. When I spoke up, I was told that I needed to do “what the coach said.” I felt so hopeless and alone.

After many years of addressing this issue head on, I realized that the heartache was still with me. It occurred to me that the only healing that could take place would come from changing the culture in the amateur sports community, to one that put athlete welfare and safety in a positive sport environment as a primary responsibility and free for sexual abuse, bullying and harassment. I am now Katherine Starr, the founder and President of the Board of Directors of Safe4Athletes.

All-American Gymnast – From Love of Sport to a Culture of Abuse
One day, there was a tumbling class and a wooden beam was pulled out to see who walk across it...I fell in love. My passion with gymnastics started with no coach. Rather I had a book I’d study which had skills broken down by frames to teach body position. I taught myself and would practice whenever I could -- recess, the back of the sofa, play grounds, and lawn. My “floor routines” started in the living rooms to the start of each TV series like Dallas. I excelled quickly and was a partner with my first coaches at the local recreation center, choreographing my own routines, making up moves on bars (I had to use men’s parallel bars because the unevens were too large to fit my small beat setting) and deciding what my floor passes would be at each competition. I was a state level Champion and finished 4th at the regional level within one year of starting the sport, the passion and love for gymnastics solidified forever.

When having to move across country for my dad’s work, I started gymnastics at a new gym. I was no longer a decision maker in anything to do with my sport. I learned quickly that every girl was expected to put her gym bag in the exact spot they told you was yours, wear her hair a certain way, think a certain way, eat a certain way, don’t be scared, don’t think, just do. So I did as I was told. By the age of 13 I was an elite gymnast training 40 hours per week, anorexic, and running on my day off, Sunday, in order to excel. My sport environment was set up in a way I thought was part being a gymnast which was to endure molestation, rape, and physical and emotional abuses of all kinds. It was implied that all of these things were a part of elite level gymnastics and necessary in order to develop trust with your coach and demonstrate your mental ability to be a top level gymnast. Your ability to endure all of this and guarding this terrible secret from everyone, was your responsibility. If you did this well, your coach’s end of the agreement would be to coach you, allow you to compete in competitions and save your life daily when spotting you during training sessions while performing life threatening skills.

At competitions and training camps, surrounded by other coaches and gymnasts, this complete sacrifice was expected and glorified. Coaches bragged about the things their athletes “endured” in training. When coaches weren’t around, top senior gymnasts were bingeing and purging and teaching junior gymnasts to sit in saunas with three layers of clothing for three hours in preparation for weigh-ins the next day. Psychological tests were performed and when your self-esteem wasn’t high enough, your coach was alerted and of course, the repercussions of your scores were endured until the next training camp where you could redeem the perception of “perfection”. This “mental toughness” was a part of the training and expectation of perfection in my world within the sport of gymnastics.

Years later, after having my own children, I realized it was a part of my life’s purpose to do what I could to change this environment for them and others. I spoke out and, even though I was now an adult, encountered denials, barriers, accusations, and even hatred because I decided to come forward. I found that speaking out and doing the right thing -- positively impacting the lives of others so they can enjoy the sport I loved -- has been the true measure of mental endurance. I have found much healing in supporting others who come forward and lending them the benefit of my experiences. I am committed to Safe4Athletes to ensure others will not have to endure the abuses I did during my youth and the hardships in my adult years confronting these abusers and the sport organizations that provided safety for these coaches and cultures to flourish.

Doe Yamashiro - A National Team Gymnast that didn’t have a voice to speak up at the time, speaks up NOW!

Some of us find our voice when we are in childhood, some of us it takes a little while longer.  I am one of the latter.  At the ripe old age of 42, I am still finding my voice.

When I was in third grade, I started gymnastics classes at a local gym.  My parents were told that I was talented and I was put on the "Mini Team" because I was still too young to compete.  A few months later I tried to quit.  I had discovered things like:  I am terrified of heights, and my hands and feet sweat so much with fear that they became slick and slippery on the equipment.

Despite my misgivings I allowed myself to be convinced to continue with gymnastics, and ended up making the national team in high school.  Fear still haunted me, but now the stakes were higher... I knew ten or more people who had broken their necks or backs.  I had constant visions of wipe outs that I didn't think I would survive.  In short, with every routine I did, I feared injury, paralysis or death.

When I was 16, my coach began groping and fondling me.  As he was the one "spotting" me on dangerous tricks, he was the person I relied upon for my perceived survival.  He also happened to be replacing an absent father figure.  Needless to say, I didn't report him, and I allowed the relationship to continue for two years.  I now know that there were people around me who suspected or knew about my coach's illicit behavior, with me and others before me.  Because of his position of power within the community, his behavior was not questioned, neither was he.

I stuck with my sport because as a teenager, I felt obligated to fulfill an imagined duty to the "talent" others said I possessed, and because the adults in my life expected it of me.  What I wanted and needed had no relevance, even to me.  But because of my decision to continue in a sport which was terrifying and abusive in many ways, I have an immense resource of courage within me... which I am eternally grateful for.  It is this courage that allows me to stand up now and to tell my story; to speak up as I find my voice.  This is what I wish for all young athletes:  to have a voice, and to have a safe and sanctioned platform through which they can be heard.

More stories to come
More stories will be posted on this page.

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