Former Olympic gymnasts Madison Kocian and Kyla Ross have added their names to the long list of women who say former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar abused them — just months after watching their former teammates detail their own experiences as the convicted child molester was handed a lengthy prison sentence.
Kocian and Ross, both 21, who competed in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics respectively, said they were empowered watching their fellow gymnasts reveal their own abuse at hearings ahead of Nassar’s sentencing earlier this year. They both leaned on gymnast Jordyn Wieber, who read a victim impact statement to the Lansing, Michigan, court, before deciding to speak publicly about the abuse.
“Just seeing the process through her view had helped me find my voice and be confident in myself and realize I was a victim,” Ross told the Associated Press. “But we don’t want to be viewed as victims. This is something we have to grow through. Now we’re just trying to find our voice and help.”
Earlier this year, Nassar was sentenced to more than 175 years in prison for sexually abusing women and girls for decades during his time at Michigan State University and as a USA Gymnastics doctor.
Ross and Kocian, both 21, told the AP that, as they listened to the survivors speak out, they realized that they shared similar experiences with Nassar. Kocian said she felt that she and her teammates were silenced at the Karolyi Ranch by a culture of fear.
“You live under a fear of not being able to speak up because this was our only avenue to accomplish our dreams and make the Olympic team,” Kocian told the AP.
During an interview with CBS News, Ross and Kocian said Nassar got away with the abuse for so long because of his friendly personality.
“It was almost like a family member,” Kocian said. “On international trips he would bring us food or he would just kind of be the person that would ask, ‘How are you doing?’ The culture that was at the Karolyi Ranch was a culture of fear, a culture of silence. And that’s what led him to be able to abuse us.”
Ross added: “We were really silenced. We didn’t really have a voice and a say as athletes.”
During the interview, Ross and Kocian said they have not heard from USA Gymnastics officials regarding their abuse allegations.
In a statement to PEOPLE, USAG officials said: “USA Gymnastics is heartbroken and sorry that Kyla Ross, Madison Kocian or any of our athletes have been harmed by the horrific acts of Larry Nassar. USA Gymnastics’ support is unwavering for Kyla, Madison and all athletes who courageously came forward to share their experiences. Their powerful voices and stories will continue to be a basis for our future decisions.”
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More than 130 women and girls have accused Nassar, 54, of assault, including gymnasts Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas. As the situation unfolded in recent years, USAG has been criticized for its handling of the matter. Olympic gymnast Raisman even filed a lawsuit against USAG and the U.S. Olympic Committee, alleging that officials knew about Nassar’s abuse and only enabled his behavior.
Nassar 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 in 2016.
In May, officials said that Michigan State University will pay $500 million to more than 300 women and girls who accused Nassar of abuse.