Champion runner alleges sex abuse by her coach- story by MARISA SUTERA STRANGE and SARAH LORGE BUTLER DEC 20, 2019
I Was Sexually Abused by My High School Coach. Forty Years Later, I’m Taking Action
In a civil lawsuit, a champion runner alleges exploitation at the hands of an adult she trusted. She details how the abuse changed the course of her life in an exclusive to Runner’s World.
I am an elite masters runner, specializing in the mile, 5K, and cross country. I’m 57 years old now, and running has been my salvation for decades. My high school coach abused me more than 40 years ago, and I’m still coming to terms with what happened.
While I was in high school, my favorite event was the 400-meter hurdles. The event was new for girls and a good fit for me, because it used all of my athletic abilities. I found it challenging and fun, and it allowed me to excel.
In 1980, a new assistant track coach appeared, who was also a teacher at the high school, and he seemed to take an interest in me right from the beginning. Running was my whole world at that time, and I was barely more than a child, naive to the world around me. Looking back, I can see how he preyed upon my innocence.
At the time, I became withdrawn and distant from my teammates, friends, and family. The experience followed me throughout my life and made it difficult for me to develop healthy relationships. The shame, guilt, and anger were often overwhelming. The only comfort I found was through running. I ran hard and worked hard to keep myself sane. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that running saved my life.
Many years later, I was called into a meeting with the school superintendent in the district where he was working at the time. The superintendent informed me that my coach had abused other women over the years and had been forced to surrender his teaching license.
But a short time ago, I learned that he was once again teaching young women at a local college. The thought that he might still be out there, abusing young people like he did me, filled me with anger.
At that time, my husband mentioned to me that New York had passed the Child Victims Act, a law that allows victims of childhood sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits in New York during a one-year window (extended to two years due to COVID-19), no matter how long ago the abuse happened. He thought pursuing a legal action might help me obtain some sort of closure. I also felt that it might be an effective way to stop him.
I reached out to the offices of Herman Law, which specializes in cases similar to mine. They listened to me, and they put me in touch with an investigator, who helped me contact and talk to people who remember me from my high school days. Ultimately, Herman Law filed a lawsuit on my behalf against Wappingers Central School District in Dutchess Supreme Court Poughkeepsie, New York.
As I went through the investigative process, I reconnected with former classmates, teammates, and staff members who were aware of what had happened. Those were difficult conversations, but it started to feel like a cloud had lifted. The case is currently working its way through the system.
During this process, I’ve been deeply motivated by thinking that perhaps my story could help others. I have kept this tightly inside of me for many years. Reaching out and telling my story is a very big step for me. I hope others come out of their shadows and find the courage and support to confront their abusers.
Working with the investigators and attorneys, I’ve learned that yes, you relive it, and yes, that can be painful. It also has brought me a tremendous amount of relief. It’s made me realize that I was hiding from myself and from the reality of what happened: I was abused.
I also want to send a message to kids today and their parents: Keep your eyes open. My attorney says that predators are drawn to youth sports. Kids are trying to make a team, they’re trying to do well, and they’re relying on these coaches to help them succeed. Unfortunately, a small number of coaches are taking advantage of kids, to groom and coerce them. Athletes are particularly vulnerable.