Canadian gymnast recounts sexual and emotional abuse by coach
A former member of the Canadian national gymnastics team has written a public letter accusing the country’s 2016 Olympic coach of climbing into bed and pressing his body against her, reaching his hand under his shirt and trying to convince her to expose her breasts.
The letter from 38-year-old Abby Pearson Spadafora revealed the latest in a long line of allegations of sexual, emotional and physical abuse by coaches Dave and Elizabeth Brubaker, who have been banned by Gymnastics Canada.
“The abuse never stopped,” Spadafora wrote in his letter published Thursday. “My male trainer regularly broke the backs of my sports bras when I started wearing them. I was taught that weight gain and puberty were bad. Injuries were rarely taken seriously and I was taught to hide the pain.
Spadafora said she started training 25 to 35 hours a week when she was 7 years old and was weighed twice a day.
“That’s when the grooming started, which led to years of abuse,” she said of her training, which began around 1991.
A group of 11 gymnasts, including Spadafora, have come forward to detail abuse at the Bluewater Gymnastics Club in Ontario. They participated in a Gymnastics Canada investigation that led to the Brubakers’ bans. Spadafora and another athlete criticized the investigation. saying it re-traumatized them because they were urged not to say anything publicly lest it be used against them in the hearing process.
Some 480 athletes have signed a petition calling on the Canadian government to commission an independent investigation into abuse at the club.
Dave Brubaker, who coached the Canadian Olympic team in 2016, was found not guilty of sexual assault and sexual exploitation in 2019 after the judge in the case involving a former gymnast revealed that the officer investigating Brubaker was related to the alleged victim.
His lifetime ban from Gymnastics Canada and his wife’s ban until Jan. 18, 2024 came earlier this year after a disciplinary panel upheld 54 counts of Brubakers misconduct. The Brubakers initially appealed their bans, but in March they withdrew the appeals.
The lawyer who represented the Brubakers in the sexual assault trial, Patrick Ducharme, did not immediately return an email from The Associated Press.
In his open letter, Spadafora said the abuse was mostly physical in the early years. She described an episode in which her trainer put her in a headstand on a low bar, 5 feet off the ground, then pushed her hands off the bar to force her to crash headfirst into the mat.
“He repeated this many times and not once did he check me for a concussion,” she wrote. “I was eleven years old! I was petrified and wanted to cry, but I knew I couldn’t for fear of reprisals.
Advocacy group Global Athlete released a statement saying Spadafora should be applauded for the courage to come forward and tell his story.
“His courageous stance in sharing his lived experience must be shared to end such normalized behavior,” the statement read.