Driven to suicide

Penn State women’s gymnastics coaches accused of extreme emotional abuse

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Former Penn State University gymnasts have told a student newspaper and People magazine that the school’s women’s gymnastics coaches, Jeff and Rachelle Thompson, subjected members of both the current team and past teams to emotional abuse. One former Penn State gymnast, Shealyn Farley, even claimed that repeated abuse from the Thompsons drove her to attempt to take her own life.

Farley claims that the Thompsons, despite knowing she had undergone six surgeries on her knee by age 16, obstructed her from scheduling a doctor’s appointment her freshman year and then ridiculed her after she was unable to practice following another surgery. Farley said the Thompsons repeatedly body shamed the gymnasts — one incident detailed by Farley involved an athlete being forced to run on the treadmill as the Thompsons called her a whale. Unable to handle the abuse, Farley said she attempted suicide and was only stopped thanks to the intervention of her teammates. When Farley finally decided to quit the sport, she said Rachelle Thompson mocked her decision, and told her that her late father would be disappointed by her giving up. “At that moment, I knew I had made the right decision,” she recalled.

Kristin Blades, another former Penn State gymnast, said that the Thompsons tried to prevent her from talking with a member of the team and her boyfriend. Blades said she was also forced to attend a competition a day after undergoing shoulder surgery, and that the Thompsons told her fellow gymnasts to end their relationships with her. Other gymnasts who competed under the coaching duo’s stewardship at Auburn University, prior to their arrival at Penn State, have come forward with similar allegations.

Penn State said that it has found no evidence of wrongdoing after investigating the claims. No seniors currently remain on the school’s women’s gymnastics team — the entire 2012 class has either transferred to a different school or quit the sport.

Read the full story at The Washington Post.

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