Editor’s note: This story originally published on USA TODAY. Below is an excerpt from Olympic medalist Shannon Miller’s opinion column.
I stand in awe of the courageous gymnasts who have come forward to share their stories about Larry Nassar. I have had the opportunity to speak with many. I want to share my unwavering support and to let them know that they do not fight alone. Every time, their strength inspires me while their stories simply break my heart. These women have shown what it means to be brave.
Through the fog of these tragedies, I have attempted to remind myself why I was drawn to the sport of gymnastics as a child. For me, it was about learning to do flips and twists. It’s about being with friends and competing for your club, your state or even your country. It’s about so many wonderful life lessons like goal setting, teamwork and perseverance. It’s about strength, flexibility and balance. The gym is where I begged my parents to take me. I ask myself, how do we get back to the gymnastics that so many of us love and cheer and cherish? Should we allow Nassar’s abuse to steal these childhood experiences from the next generation, then this tragedy geometrically grows.
To address the systemic problems that allowed his hateful acts to flourish, we must understand that the road back is long. It can’t be fixed by one person, nor should it be. It’s going to take a team. We must create change that is sustainable for generations to come.
The challenge before us set forth is to have a governing body for the sport of gymnastics that empowers athletes and creates a safe environment and a level playing field for all. I have taken the outrage I feel and done my best to channel that into an ongoing push for specific agenda-focused change within USA Gymnastics.
We have seen steps in the right direction, including a new president and CEO charged with true cultural change, the closing of the training facility at “The Ranch,” and turnover on the Board of Directors, including three resignations this week. These are all good signs and yet the reality is, the change will never happen fast enough. However, I am confident it will happen. I believe that we can draw on the strength shown by these incredible survivors, take the cue from them and stand up for what’s right.
Cultural change within any organization is not easy, but there are specific processes, procedures and education that can create the athlete-centric environment that is needed. Now is the time to question the fundamentals of how our sport works.
Shannon Miller, a seven-time Olympic medalist and the most decorated Olympic gymnast in U.S. history, is a mother, a cancer survivor and president of Shannon Miller Lifestyle. Follow her on Twitter: @shannonmiller96