For five decades, long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad has been publicly discussing how her swim coach repeatedly assaulted her when she was 14. She knows her situation is not unique, and she hopes that continuing to tell her story will convince other women to do the same.
In a New York Times op-ed published on Thursday, Nyad wrote that in 1964, she was napping at her coach’s house between state championship races when “out of nowhere, he was on top of me.”
“He yanked my suit down. He grabbed at and drooled onto my breasts. He hyperventilated and moaned. I didn’t breathe for perhaps two full minutes, my body locked in an impenetrable flex. My arms trembled, pinned to my sides. He pleaded with me to open my legs, but they were pressed hard together.
“He ejaculated on my stomach, my athletic torso I was so proud of now suddenly violated with this strange and foul stuff.”
The incident marked the “beginning of years of covert molestation,” Nyad wrote. She said the coach assaulted her again before her team traveled to the national championships.
“I sat through classes, distracted by an image of hacking my breasts off with a razor blade,” she said. “Overnight, I began going through life a solitary soldier.”
Nyad said she first found the courage to speak up at age 21, confiding in a friend who told her she’d been molested by the same coach. Her coach was fired, but continued to be celebrated in the coaching community until his death in 2014. She does not identify her former coach by name.
Speaking up fosters connections between women who have undergone similar trauma, Nyad said, sharing that after one speaking engagement, an elderly woman ended up telling her how her father had started molesting her at age three.
In the wake of the sexual assault and harassment allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and a number of other powerful men, Nyad says she’s been heartened by the flood of women who have come forward, many finding solidarity through the #MeToo hashtag. But she knows there are many more who have yet to tell their stories.
“I will continue to tell my story until all girls and women find their own voice,” Nyad wrote. “We need to construct an accurate archive of these abuses. And we need to prepare coming generations to speak up in the moment, rather than be coerced into years of mute helplessness.”
Sexual abuse appears to be rampant in the professional sports world, among many other places. Two-time Olympic medalist McKayla Maroney revealed last month that USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar ― who had already been accused of abusing more than 100 women ― had been abusing her since she was 13. Meanwhile, more than 100 USA Swimming coaches have been banned for life for sexual abuse.