Convicted sex offender and former sports doctor Larry Nassar told Argentine artistic gymnast Ayelén Tarabini that if she came to the US for medical treatment, she could train with Olympian Aly Raisman. Nassar spent 10 years building trust with Tarabini, and the gymnast, now 25, says she is shocked, and feels that she narrowly avoided abuse at his hands.
After already being sentenced to 40 years in prison for possessing child pornography, Nassar now will serve up to 175 years for sexually abusing more than 100 women and girls, many of whom were adolescent Olympic gymnasts.
As 156 women shared their victim impact statements at Nassar’s trial, Argentine gymnast Ayelén Tarabini shuddered at what may have happened to her, had their communications gone further.
“When I was 15-years-old, the 2007 Pan-American Games at Río do Janeiro were my first major competition. When all the girls went from the Villa to the stadium for training, we greeted each other, and that was where I met Nassar,” Tarabini said to Clarín. “The weird thing was that months after that competition, he found me and contacted me on Facebook.”
The message to Tarabini read: “Hi, how are you? I’m the doctor from the United States. I remember you from your smile.”
Since then, Nassar continued to message Tarabini occasionally, just to “see how she was,” according to the gymnast. Just a young teen at the time, Tarabini didn’t think anything of it. He was a world-renowned sports doctor, after all, and he presumably was checking in on her health. He seemed to be helping her.
Then she saw him at the gymnastics world championships in 2009 and 2010. “He would come, say hi to me, and say that he remembered me. He mentioned my social media posts, but always with respect,” Tarabini said.
Part of that “respect” is what made Nassar so dangerous. He wasn’t just “respectful” in day to day interactions, but was internationally “respected” as a doctor, and to a young gymnast like Tarabini, being followed on social media by a doctor who works with some of the world’s best gymnasts might seem like an honor.
Nothing happened after that. But then, in 2011, Tarabini tore her left Achilles tendon, which Nassar noticed on social media (a logical explanation for why a sports doctor might follow a young gymnast on Instagram: to offer medical help). He told the young gymnast that he could send her a CD with physical therapy exercises. “I saw him as a doctor, so I told him okay,” Tarabini said.
When Tarabini got the letter and the package with the CD, Nassar told her if she came to US for rehabilitation with him, she could train with Aly Raisman, one of Nassar’s most famous patients and victims. “I wanted to go, because she’s one of the best, but I wasn’t able to because the trip was too expensive. It’s a good thing I didn’t go,” Tarabini said, looking back.
Raisman’s victim impact statement is now one of the most well-known aspects of Nassar’s trial. Raisman stared her abuser in the face and confronted him as part of a four-day session for victim impact statements during his trial. “Larry, you do realize now that we, this group of women you so heartlessly abused over such a long period of time, are now a force, and you are nothing,” Raisman said in court. (Watch the video below for the whole statement).
Raisman’s and countless other survivors’ accounts revealed flaws in the sexual assault reporting system. The survivors repeatedly reported Nassar’s abuse to officials, and Nassar was continually protected. Without the initial report by the Indianapolis Star, it is likely that Nassar would continue to be protected, and perhaps, Tarabini would never have known that this man was a danger.
Today, Tarabini posted on her Instagram story a screenshot of Swedish Olympic gymnast Vernoica Wagner’s instagram, thanking all of Nassar’s survivors for speaking out.
“I have a totally different image of him now,” Tarabini said. “He is a horrible person. He is a monster.”