Former CMU gymnast says offering statement in Nassar case was empowering


A former Central Michigan University gymnast was one of more than 150 women who described the sexual abuse they experienced at the hands of disgraced sports medicine doctor Larry Nassar during his sentencing in Ingham County Circuit Court. 

A former USA Gymnastics Medical Coordinator and osteopathic physician at Michigan State University, Nassar was sentenced Jan. 24 by Judge Rosemarie Aquilina to a maximum 175 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct. 

Samantha Ursch, who attended CMU from 2007-2011, provided a victim impact statement on Jan. 19 to Aquilina. 

Ursch told the court she was one of at least two CMU gymnasts who were assaulted by Nassar. 

After falling in love with gymnastics at 3 years old, Ursch competed without injury for 16 years. During her freshman year at CMU, Ursch tore her anterior cruciate ligament and was forced to sit out the season. After knee surgery, Ursch began having severe muscle spasms and lower back pain. 

Ursch sat out her freshman and sophomore seasons due to injuries. After four years, her last opportunity to compete was Senior Night — the final home meet of the regular season. A teammate suggested Ursch visit Nassar for treatment. 

In her court statement, Ursch described Nassar as "friendly" and "well-informed" about her injury. He knew who Ursch was, she said, and why she wasn’t competing with the team.

Ursch and her teammate were two of "a few" gymnasts at CMU who were seeing Nassar. 

"I couldn't tell you how many," Ursch told Central Michigan Life. "There was more than just the two of us."

Gymnasts who scheduled appointments with Nassar individually, were not sent to him by the university. 

“It was a privilege to see him (since he was highly respected)," Ursch said. "Being the doctor who understood the demands of the sport of gymnastics, it was rare to have a doctor that has that insight."

Nassar’s assessment of Ursch's injuries resulted in a diagnosis, she said.

“I was so glad to finally be able to tell my coaches and teammates why I was in so much pain that I carried around my medical records from my visit,” Ursch said. 

Nassar’s office scheduled an appointment for Ursch. Her schedule was busy and the office accommodated her by having her meet with Nassar at the end of the day. 

Everything about that visit seemed fine, she said, until one of the office staff entered the examining room to announce she was leaving for the day. 

Ursch realized that she and Nassar were now alone in the office. That's when Nassar told Ursch there were “other things” he could do to relieve the pain in her upper legs. He described the procedure as “a little invasive.”

“I had no idea this meant he would be inserting his fingers into the most private areas of my body,” Ursch told the court. 

After the assault, Nassar justified his treatment.

"He mentioned that everything was connected within the body," Ursch said. "He offered videos to look more into how the sacrotuberous ligament connected everything."

Ursch tried to exit through the darkened lobby of his office, but Nassar told her to exit out of a side door. 

“I remember walking down a back stairwell feeling mortified and dirty,” she said. 

Ursch realized that something about what had happened was wrong. She immediately called her mom. While on the phone with her mother on the drive back to Mount Pleasant, Ursch explained that Nassar had given her an explanation for the "treatment." Her mother continued to question Ursch about Nassar's actions. Ursch convinced herself that what happened was a medical treatment, and never told anyone else about the incident.

She did, however, ask her teammate if Nassar has done anything similar to her. 

“(My teammate) said ‘he wasn’t a bit shy’ and ‘had to do the same thing’ to her for another type of injury,” Ursch said. 

In January 2016, Ursch’s mother told her club gymnastics coaches what happened to her daughter during her appointment with Nassar. Ursch praised Rachael Denhollander, who was the first woman to tell the Indianapolis Star about Nassar’s abuse. Ursch also credited the other victims for helping give her the courage to deal with the realization that she had been assaulted by Nassar.

“The guilt that I didn’t say something years earlier will never go away,” Ursch said. 

CMU head gymnastics coach Jerry Reighard was not notified of Ursch's assault until days before she read her statement during the sentencing phase of Nassar's trial.

“We are proud of Samantha – who remains close to our program – for speaking out,” Reighard said. “We stand with her, together, as a family.”

After making the statement in court, Ursch said she feels more open about discussing what happened to her and empowered.

"It made me feel like I was standing up for myself," Ursch said. "Now I have this army of women that understand everything without (what happened) even having to be explained."