GRAND RAPIDS, Mich -- Gymnastics has been under a microscope ever since the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal broke in 2016. After hearing hundreds of victim impact statements during his sentencing, the sports' culture has been called into question.
However, Grand Rapids Gymnastics is doing what they’ve always done: Training hundreds of athletes in a safe, positive and empowering environment.
Owners and coaches tell FOX 17 that while the Nassar case is heartbreaking and shocking, it does not define the sport they love.
Kelly Stevens, the Senior Director of Athletics for Grand Rapids Gymnastics, has held every title the sport has to offer, from athlete, to coach, to gym owner.
“I’ve devoted my entire life to gymnastics,” she said.
When abuse allegations about Nassar surfaced in 2016, she said it felt personal.
“It was sickening to hear that happened, she said”
Stevens, like many coaches, sent some of her own athletes to Nassar for their injuries.
She said, “He became the National Team Doctor, he was in Michigan, he’s an hour away from me. I feel guilty for sending my kids there, versus a different doctor.”
In a sport that’s been scrutinized for strict and questionable coaching methods, Stevens said she and countless other gyms take a much different approach.
“I get much more out of my children when it’s positive reinforcement. They know I care about them, they know I know what’s best for them. They may not like me all the time and that’s okay, but they know I’m doing what’s in the best interest for them and their gymnastics and their life in general.”
While Grand Rapids Gymnastics has always had strict safety guidelines for their staff, they’ve upped their game since the Nassar case.
Stevens said, “Have we put stuff in place? Absolutely! Security cameras to make sure we document everything. One coach isn’t left alone with a child, which, I mean, we were doing before, but if parents want to know, that’s what we’re doing.”
She says continued transparency will keep the trust they have with parents, adding there's room to sit in on your child’s trial class if parents want to watch.
“Pay attention to what the teacher is saying to them and how they’re acting and if they’re paying attention to the kids. Make sure it’s safe.”
Parents are encouraged also to be part of the process.
Stevens said, “I’ve met some of the best people as coaches, as gym owners, who go above and beyond for their kids. They give their personal time, they sacrifice time with their family.”
Stevens tells us, while all sports help kids build healthy life skills, there’s truly nothing like gymnastics.
“I don’t really know of any other sport that kids can go months failing on a skill and they come every single day still and try that skill. It’s teaching them never give up, you will get it.”
For her, it’s not about her “kids” winning gold medals, but rather teaching them how to be outstanding people.
“They all mean a lot to me. I watch a lot of these kids grow up.”
Stevens also owns a gymnastics club in Livonia, where she says she’s taken her USA Gymnastics banners down. She said she won’t put them back up until the organizations make significant changes with their policies and board members.
She notes the sport’s governing body has made some changes though, including creating the Safe Sport Program this past summer, which teaches coaches how to prevent and recognize abuse.
She said there is still a long way to go.
Click link to learn more about the USAG Safe Sport program.