A former Olympic gymnast said in an exclusive interview with ABC News that she was sexually abused by former team doctor Larry Nassar for years, and claimed that in 2017, USA Gymnastics’ then-president had manipulated her into agreeing to a statement of support for the organization.
Tasha Schwikert, 33, told ABC News that, shortly before a February 2017 “60 Minutes” interview where three former gymnasts alleged sexual abuse by Nassar, Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics at the time, called her unexpectedly, saying, “We’re in some trouble.”
She said that he had asked whether she’d been abused by Nassar, and that in that moment she told him “no.”
Schwikert, a 2000 Sydney Olympics bronze medalist, said she was caught off guard and not yet ready to come forward with her own story of abuse by Nassar.
“Up until that point… if anyone asked how my gymnastics career was, how the Olympics was, you’d smile and say it was great — life was glamorous,” she told ABC News. “It kind of reminds me of social media, when everyone posts the best five percent of their life, but no one wants to talk about the other 95 percent. It’s like everything is great, and you move on because it’s easier to portray that your life is glamorous, [that] you’re doing great and you’re fine.”
During the phone call, she said the USA Gymnastics head asked Schwikert to give him a statement about her “positive experience” with Nassar and USA Gymnastics. She refused to say anything positive about Nassar, but she did agree to a pre-drafted statement by USA Gymnastics, she said.
The statement read: “As a member of the National Team from 1999-2004, I firmly believe USA Gymnastics always had my health and well-being top of mind. The program provided me with the resources and experiences that helped me achieve my goals.”
USA Gymnastics tweeted that statement alongside a picture of a beaming Schwikert.
“[Penny] contacted me at probably one of the most vulnerable times of my life,” she said, noting that she was days away from taking the BAR exam, pregnant, working and taking care of her year-old daughter alone, while her husband worked overseas “for months on end.”
“I hadn’t even addressed or acknowledged my personal skeletons with Larry… I just felt indebted to [Penny]. Basically, because I was so vulnerable, he was able to manipulate me into just signing off on a statement that they drafted for me.”
She said that she never heard from Penny again after the statement was released. According to Schwikert, Nassar abused her for the first time when she was 16 at the Olympic Games Training Camp at the Karolyi Ranch in 2000. She said she was assaulted more than 100 times until 2005.
“Never in a million years would I think the doctor who is supposed to be treating me, and helping me, is telling me this medical advice, which is really just manipulation… to get me to believe that what he’s doing is legit,” she said.
Tasha Schwikert talked about her experience Thursday for the first time in an interview with ABC News. She hopes to speak out against what she described as an “environment of fear” that she said pervaded life at the Karolyi Ranch. She is now an attorney living in Las Vegas with her husband and two children.
She was joined Thursday by her sister, Jordan Schwikert, 31, also of Las Vegas, who was also a USA Gymnastics team member. Jordan Schwikert told ABC News that she was first abused by Nassar when she was 14, and that she had been assaulted more than 15 times.
“To even think about it, it just makes me so disgusted inside. I don’t even want to imagine that it even happened,” Jordan Schwikert said. “But when I was little, I would try to put it past me.”
Jordan Schwikert said she was happy to have the opportunity tell her story with her sister, and that “it would be a lot harder to come out by myself.”
“It’s nice to have Tasha come out together… we just want to make a big impact and make change. We never want anyone to go through this. Coming out publicly, it’s about helping other people.”
Penny was arrested Wednesday in Tennessee for allegedly tampering with evidence in the case of Nassar.
He allegedly removed documents from the Karolyi Ranch, the former U.S. gymnastics’ training facility in Huntsville, Texas, related to Nassar’s activity at the gym.
“The indictment further alleges that the removal of the documents was done for the purpose of impairing the ongoing investigation by destroying or hiding the documents,” the U.S. Marshals said in a press release.
He allegedly ordered the documents be sent to him at USA Gymnastics headquarters in Indianapolis. Those documents have never been recovered, authorities said.
Penny resigned as USA Gymnastics president in March 2017 amid allegations of sexual abuse against Nassar.
Nassar pleaded guilty in 2017 to seven counts of child molestation, but more than 130 women and girls, including Olympic gold medalists Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, have accused him of assaulting them.
Many of those accusers testified at a hearing in January when he was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison. He pleaded guilty in two other cases — one pertaining to assault and another possession of child pornography — as well.
In a statement from his attorney, Penny said that when the facts are known, it will be shown he did nothing criminal. He faces up to 10 years in prison. The attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Tasha Schwikert from ABC News.
On Thursday, USA Gymnastics also released a statement, saying that it had learned about the charges filed against Penny.
“We support law enforcement’s efforts and have fully cooperated with the investigations by the Texas Rangers, Congress and others, and will continue to do so to help the survivors and our community heal from this tragedy.”
ABC News’ Mark Osborne and Ali Rogin contributed to the reporting in this story.