The balance beam of life

How gymnast Maggie Nichols perceives gymnastics after being abused in the sport


Kaelyn Blizzard, Staff Writer

Maggie Nichols started gymnastics at the early age of three, and she immediately fell in love with the sport. She had an athletic drive that pushed her to great limits. Nichols even managed to receive seven perfect scores throughout her competitive career. 

However, what was unknown to many within the gymnastics community was that there was a sexual abuser and child predator among them. 

Dr. Larry Nassar, who worked at Michigan State University and with the United States Association of Gymnastics, abused over 500 women over the course of his 18-year career, putting world-renowned gymnasts such as Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas in his care. He often disguised his invasive habits as part of his medical practice.

Nichols was put in Nassar’s care for a back injury on the Karolyi Ranch, owned by Márta and Béla Károlyi, who have allegations of verbal and physical abuse of children. 

Photo courtesy Paul Sancya

During her routine check, Nichols recalls his weird behavior. 

“I trusted what he was doing at first, but then he started touching me in places I really didn’t think he should,” Nichols said.  “He didn’t have gloves on and he didn’t tell me what he was doing. There was no one else in the room and I accepted what he was doing because I was told by adults that he was the best doctor and he could help relieve my pain.” 

Nichols had finally brought up her discomfort with a friend and fellow Olympian-prospect, Aly Raisman, who confirmed Nichols’s observations. 

Eventually, the news had traveled to Nichols’s parents, where they informed a slew of people, one of them being vice president Rhona Faehn in 2015. 

“Each time I immediately reported these incidents, I was told by Penny not to say anything to anyone for fear of possibly impeding any investigation of Nassar,” Faehn explained. “I was not aware of any delay in contacting authorities or of any efforts to misinform anyone of the reasons for Nassar’s departure from USAG.” 

The power was ultimately given to the President of USA Gymnastics, Steve Penny, who sat on the information of the abuse of his gymnasts for five weeks and six days. 

During that time, Penny claims to have been conducting a private investigation. 

Penny eventually fired Nassar but did not release to the public the reason as to why he was fired. This enabled Nassar to abuse women for another 15 months. 

Turmoil increased when the IndyStar, a newspaper company local to Indiana, released an article about the hidden abuse in USA Gymnastics. 

The article reached many women, including those who had faced abuse from Nassar years prior. Realizing that his abuse was continuing 16 years later, many brave women started to come forward. 

Rachael Denhollander was one of the first women to speak out against the abuse she faced at the hands of Nassar. 

“The first thought was, ‘I was right. They’ve been burying sexual abuse,” Denhollander said in a documentary.       

Another woman, former Olympian Jamie Dantzscher, recalls her experience with Nassar as a form of hope, manipulated by his greed. 

“I hate this sentence but I would actually look forward to treatment because Larry was the only nice adult I could remember being a part of the USA Gymnastics staff,” Dantzscher states. “He was really the only nice adult there.”

Unfortunately, they were three of hundreds more who stepped forward, finally leading to the trial of Nassar.

Nassar was put on trial for various sexual abuse cases, leading him to be sentenced to prison for 175 years. 

The women who were abused by Nassar were encouraged to write and present a victim impact statement to him during his trial. 150 women stood their abuser in the face and told them that he will never be able to hurt another woman again.

Olympic gold medalist, Aly Raisman, was one of the women who presented their statements during the trial: 

“Larry, you do realize now that we, this group of women you so heartlessly abused over such a long period of time, are now a force, and you are nothing,” Raisman stated. “I am here to face you, Larry, so you can see I have regained my strength — that I am no longer a victim, I am a survivor… The survivors are here, standing tall, and we are not going anywhere.”


A documentary following the efforts of those at the IndyStar and the abused gymnasts was released on Netflix in 2020.

Neshaminy High School junior Mia Elliot recently watched the documentary, where she was appalled by the events that took place. 

“I just thought it was crazy that so much was going on for so long and the parents were not suspicious at all,” Elliot stated. 

Elliot also weighed in on the widespread abuse happening. 

“It’s so unavoidable nowadays and it’s so sad that it’s like that,” Elliot said. 

The documentary also showed how Nichols dealt with these events that took up her formative years.

Nichols had retired from elite gymnastics but found her love for gymnastics growing at the collegiate level. 

The University of Oklahoma welcomed Nichols with open arms, where she won back-to-back NCAA all-around titles in 2018 and 2019. 

Nichols says that her road to success has been quite difficult, but it’s made her the strong person she is. 

“There were a lot of things that were crossing my mind before I came forward,” Nichols stated. “If it would hinder any chances with my gymnastics… would people treat me differently, would people look at me the wrong way, stuff like that. After I came forward…The feedback and the responses I got were so positive. I had so many people behind me and supporting me. It was the right decision for me. I made the right decision.”