How USA Gymnastics Mishandled Sexual Abuse Allegations for 20 Years

It couldn’t have gone better for USA Gymnastics at the 2016 Olympics. The governing body for the sport in the United States saw their women’s team win an unprecedented number of medals: team gold, all around gold and silver, vault gold, uneven bars silver, balance beam silver and bronze, as well as the floor exercise gold and silver.

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The Final Five have the most successful Olympics in the history of the US.

Basking in all their glory, the organization seemingly attempted to brush aside allegations of sexual abuse that first emerged during the Rio Games. This week it was revealed that over 350 gymnasts have come forward as survivors of sexual assault in their gyms; many of the athletes naming longtime national team doctor Larry Nassar as the perpetrator. After further investigation it has been found that USA Gymnastics not only knew about many of the incidents, but that the organization failed to protect athletes by not notifying authorities and allowing potential offenders to continue in their roles.

IndyStar is currently  involved with investigating allegations and institutional mishandling of the assaults:

“No one knows exactly how many children have been sexually exploited in America’s gyms over the past 20 years. But an IndyStar-USA TODAY Network review of hundreds of police files and court cases across the country provides for the first time a measure of just how pervasive the problem is.

At least 368 gymnasts have alleged some form of sexual abuse at the hands of their coaches, gym owners, and other adults working in gymnastics. That’s a rate of one every 20 days. And it’s likely an undercount.”

USAG’s success over the past sixteen years has overshadowed the sexual abuse allegations that first surfaced this summer. The investigation has shown that not only did USA Gymnastics know about abuse allegations, but also that the organization protected the coaches over their athletes. Just now being picked up by major media outlets, USAG needs to take responsibility for their clear lack of ability in handling issues of sexual assault, as well as better protection of athletes, and enforcing regulatory standards that require reporting accusations to the police and following up in gyms. The gross negligence by the organization to address these issues requires institutional changes in both their system and leadership.

A successful program can’t only be defined by the number of medals won.

 

The Sport of Women’s Artistic Gymnastics in the United States

USAG is a large organization with huge influence:

“USA Gymnastics sets the rules and policies that govern gymnastics in the U.S., and it develops the U.S. Olympic team.

Today, USA Gymnastics counts more than 121,000 athletes and more than 3,000 gyms in its membership. With $23 million in annual revenue, according to its most recent tax return, USA Gymnastics touts itself as a “big time brand” and partners with sponsors such as Kellogg’s and Hershey.”

In the past 20 years women’s gymnastics in the United States has evolved to a semi-centralized system. Following the 2000 Olympics, Marta Karolyi (who, along with her husband Bela, famously trained Nadia Comaneci, Mary Lou Retton, Dominique Moceanu, and Kerri Strug) took over the position of National Team Coordinator. There she changed how training and selection for assignments was conducted in the US. She implemented a semi-centralized system which meant that all athletes trained at their own gym, but met at the Karolyi ranch about every month for training camp. There the gymnasts would verify skills and were chosen for competitions.

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A National Training Camp in 2012

This setup is important to note because it is often heralded as not only one of the factors leading to the success of the women’s program after Sydney, but how the gymnasts continually were working with the same staff of coaches, coordinators, and doctors from 2001-2016 as well.

The system seemed to work. The US women have dominated the past 15 years of competition; winning team silvers in 2004 and 2008, team golds in 2012 and 2016, not to mention the all around champion in all four of those Olympic games, and countless individual and team medals in world championships. Even now, USA Gymnastics wants to continue this system after Marta has retired, having actually purchased portions the ranch from the Karolyis to continue to hold training camps under their new Coordinator, Valeri Liukin.

Allegations of Abuse Against Dr. Larry Nassar

In August 2016, IndyStar published a report detailing numerous instances of not only sexual abuse, but also how USA Gymnastics failed to protect athletes from perpetrators with a history of assault. Many of the accusations were directed at former national team doctor Larry Nassar.

The national team doctor for the women’s program from 1996 to 2015, Nassar was hired by Michigan State University following USAG’s decision to fire him due to “athlete concerns,” although Nassar claims he resigned the position because “he wished to pursue other interests outside of USA Gymnastics”.

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Larry Nassar with McKayla Maroney in 2013

In October 2016, two women came forward with allegations of sexual assault against the longtime team physician. The first, known as Jane Doe, is a 2000 Olympic medalist who filed a civil lawsuit against the doctor where she “accuses him of fondling and groping her breasts… and introduced his bare hand to Plaintiff’s vagina and anus, on multiple locations, in Plaintiff’s assigned sleeping quarters, as she lay on the edge of her bed, alone and without any supervision or a chaperone…” The lawsuit in full can be found here.

The second athlete, Rachael Denhollander, also came forward with allegations of abuse at the hands of Nassar. The complaint, filed with Michigan police, details incidents similar to Jane Doe’s lawsuit, including procedures that included penetration. In her interview with IndyStar, Denhollander explains the emotional turmoil of the abuse she experienced at age 15:

“I was terrified,” she recalled. “I was ashamed. I was very embarrassed. And I was very confused, trying to reconcile what was happening with the person he was supposed to be. He’s this famous doctor. He’s trusted by my friends. He’s trusted by these other gymnasts. How could he reach this position in the medical profession, how could he reach this kind of prominence and stature if this is who he is?”

 

Following the complaints by Jane Doe and Rachel Denhollander, IndyStar and Doe’s lawyer reported they were approached by an additional 16+ athletes from different states that were also under Nassar’s care. These stories of abuse again mirrored the already filed complaints: inappropriate fondling of breasts and vaginal penetration treatments performed unprofessionally (either without lubricant, gloves, and/or without parental consent).

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Denhollander in 2016

Dr. Nassar was fired from MSU for “lack of compliance” after these lawsuits were filed.  Gymcastic believes this reason is due to Nassar (a tenured professor at the university) being accused of similar actions against a graduate assistant in 2014, an incident that was investigated by police but no charges were filed; as a response to these allegations, the university set new requirements of Nassar in his contract. Nassar’s first lawyer stated that he did not perform intra-vaginal treatments, which was then contradicted by his second lawyer who explained that yes, the doctor performed this particular treatment, but was done in a professional, medically-sound way.

Later in October, Jane Doe #2 came forward not only with allegations against Nassar, but USA Gymnastics, her coaches, as well as Marta and Bela Karolyi. A member of the national team from 2004-2010, this athlete details similar instances of abuse by Nassar at the Karolyi Ranch during national training camp, as well as stating that the famed coaches “turned a blind-eye to Nassar’s sexual abuse of children at the ranch” and “instituted a regime of intimidation and fear at the ranch for the minor children under their custody.” The claim also outlines other forms of mental and emotional abuse at the ranch; the full lawsuit can be found here.

Over fifty gymnasts have come forward accusing the doctor of sexual abuse. In November he was arrested for assault against a 13 year old non-gymnast. This Friday (12/16), he was arrested on federal charges after a search found over 2,000 images of child pornography in his home.

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Nassar in 2016, being read the charges against him

A System of Abuse: How USAG Failed to Protect Athletes Institutionally

As the sole umbrella organization of their 3,000+ gyms in the United States and the decision-making institution for the sport, USAG’s role is one of the most important aspects of these sexual abuse allegations. USA Gymnastics does have a complaint process in place meant to protect athletes; I believe this method for reporting abuse not only failed miserably, but demonstrates USAG’s sheer lack of accountability and how little action the organization made to ensure the safety of their athletes against sexual predators.

“In August, an IndyStar investigation revealed that USA Gymnastics executives repeatedly failed to forward allegations of sexual abuse at its member clubs to law enforcement authorities. The organization relied on a policy of not alerting authorities unless allegations came directly from an athlete or an athlete’s parent or guardian, according to testimony in court records.”

In court records, the former and current presidents of USAG (Bob Colarossi and Steve Penny) acknowledged that they did not report claims of sexual assault to police for numerous reasons, one being the protection of the coach’s reputation should the allegations were found to be false.

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Again, according to records from USAG subpoenaed by IndyStar, former president Colarossi said he “inherited an executive policy of dismissing complaints as ‘hearsay’ unless they were signed by a victim or victim’s parent — a policy that experts said could deter people from reporting abuse. It’s not clear exactly when that policy was created or by whom.”

Here is IndyStar’s outline of the multiple coaches accused of sexual assault and how USAG mishandled the complaints:

Ray Adams: Adams abused over 12 gymnasts in multiple gyms over the course of 16 years. He was not only fired on a number of occasions for inappropriate behavior, but also had

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Via IndyStar

many police reports filed against him by family members of victims (including one where both prosecutors declined to press charges after he undressed a student). Adams continued to find work as a coach, even after confessing to molesting children; in 1997 he was allowed to continue working at a St. Louis YMCA (where he abused children). By 2003, he was hired by famed coach Mary Lee Tracy (gymnasts include 1996 gold medalists Jaycie Phelps and Amanda Borden, as well as 2016 Olympic hopeful Amelia Hundley) and Buckeye Gymnastics (a gym now known for coaching 2016 gold medalist Gabby Douglas) even though 12 girls had accused him of sexual abuse. Adams was continuously hired because he still had good standing with USA Gymnastics, a fact that USAG blames on the justice system for failing to list his convictions on his background check.

After a parent of a former student saw Adams was still coaching at a local competition, she wrote a letter to USAG insisting they revoke his membership; a letter the organization denies ever receiving, even with proof that the letter was delivered. In 2009 he was convicted of felony molestation and while on house arrest was arrested for possession of child pornography; it was only after his first conviction that USAG banned him as a coach. He is currently serving his sentence. A detailed timeline including police reports can be found here.

James Bell: Even with a record of sexual misconduct, including those filed through the police and USA Gymnastics,  James Bell was able to continue to coach in the US. A former employer reported Bell to police in 2004. Once apprehended, he was convicted of three counts of molestation.

William McCabe: William McCabe is one of the most damning cases showing the failings of USA Gymnastics. In 1998 USAG reportedly received at least four complaints about McCabe from employers. One letter, sent to USAG after the head coach overheard McCabe say he planned to “f— her very soon” about a gymnast, stated that:

“My feelings are this, no individual should be allowed to work with children or teenagers under any circumstances if there is even a hint of a problem. To allow this scum bag to continue working within the gymnastic community would be a terrible insult… In my opinion this person has no right to work with children and should be locked in a cage before someone is raped.”

The complaints were never reported by USAG–allowing McCabe to not only walk free but also continue coaching–and begin molesting his gymnasts in 1999. He is now serving a 30 year sentence for sexual exploitation of children.

Mark Schiefelbein: Even though Schiefelbein had numerous complaints of sexual assault against him, he was still able to find coaching positions in a number of gymnastics clubs. He was accused of photographing a young athlete, as well as molesting her, in 2003.

Marvin Sharp: 2010’s Women’s Coach of the Year, Sharp is known for training 2008 Olympian and 2009 World Champion Bridget Sloan. A 2011 report stated that Sharp was inappropriately touching gymnasts; after a second allegation surfaced four years later, USA Gymnastics reported him to police. Arrested on child pornography and molestation charges in 2015, Sharp committed suicide in his jail cell.

Why Things Need To Change

There are now 368 gymnasts coming forward with allegations of sexual abuse over the past twenty years. While USA Gymnastics did not commit any of the assaults, they created and implemented a system that failed to protect athletes, allowing perpetrators to continue to abuse gymnasts, while protecting their image. The fact that these coaches and Dr. Nassar are just a few of the cases currently being reviewed demonstrates the extreme lack of accountability of USAG to report crimes to authorities and following up in gyms.

The very organization being heralded as the “great gymnastics power” is the same entity that allowed offenders to continue coaching even at the expense of their own young gymnasts. I personally believe this is for two reasons. The first is that the sexual abuse of children is an uncomfortable topic to discuss, particularly for a sports organization that has a majority of underage athletes. Second, USAG relies on sponsorship for competitions and makes millions off of the success of their athletes.

Even the firing of Nassar was done quietly; if USA Gymnastics was in fact trying to protect gymnasts and let him go as a result of athlete complaints, how can the organization in good conscience not publicly state the true reasoning for firing Nassar? How can USAG allow Nassar to not only walk free but be hired as a professor at Michigan State University, a Division I school that also has many former USAG athletes competing on scholarship?

These men were in positions of great trust and power. Many survivors of sexual assault feel embarrassed, guilty, or ashamed of the abuse that happens to them. Gymcastic reported on an article by Women’s Health that stated how often this type of abuse occurs:

“In a new survey of nearly 500 women conducted by Women’s Health and the anti–sexual violence group RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), 27 percent said they’d been violated by a doctor—reporting everything from lewd comments to masturbation, inappropriate touching, and even rape.”

The continued rhetoric that strangers are the most likely people who abuse only further perpetuates this notion that those close to you will not harm you. As girls, teenagers, young adults, we are taught to carry pepper spray and not walk alone, but hardly ever do we talk about how to handle our coach, doctor, family member, or friend making advances. Even discussing sexual abuse is often seen as taboo. It’s clear that abuse is occurring; we need to start having frank conversations about it. Remaining quiet only further emboldens abusers and silences survivors.

In an interview with BBC, Denhollander explains:

“…The other dynamic is that he was very trusted. It was very difficult to reconcile the person he was supposed to be with what he was doing, so the only conclusion I could come to was that I must be making a mistake… That the truth has not come out in the past 18 years is something that has haunted me. The only thing that I feel now is very deep grief. I did not feel the need to come forward publicly for myself – there is nothing I gain from this for myself. But to be able to see the other women have a voice, that is worth everything. That is more powerful a motivation than fear.”

Journalist Mark Alesi, who has been working on compiling accusations for the case, stated: “There’s a lot more to come out, we suspect, on how USA Gymnastics handles sexual abuse complaints. As part of our investigation we have learned that it was keeping files of sexual abuse complaints but not reporting them to authorities. If we get to those, we think there will be a lot more to report.”

Both BBC and IndyStar report that there are many more athletes coming forward.

Updates as of December 22nd, 2016:

  • After finding over 37,000 images of child pornography, Dr. Larry Nassar was arrested without the option of bail. Judge Ray Kent noted Nassar was “‘worst’ kind of danger to the community.” The hard drives containing the images were found by officers searching Nassar’s home; an officer noted that the garbage pickup was running late that day and checked the cans. The drives–which included Nassar’s name and phone number–included graphic videos of underage girls being abused, some of which included abuse at the hands of Nassar in his swimming pool.
  • Multiple athletes from other sports at Michigan State University have come forward with allegations of abuse against Nassar, bringing his total accusers to more than 60. He has plead not guilty to the charges.
  • A former MSU softball player, Tiffany Thomas Lopez, has also come forward saying she told at least three trainers at Michigan State about the abuse, but all complaints were ignored. She is the 16th former MSU athlete to file a lawsuit against Nassar.
  • USA Gymnastics insists they are “determined to raise standards” of sexual abuse protocol.

 

 

My Great Grandparents are Victims of Elder Abuse.

When my Mom called Friday night to tell me that my Great Grandpa was in the hospital because of a heart attack, I honestly wasn’t too concerned. Even at age 93 I knew he’d make it through. He always does. Saturday I woke up to eight missed calls and immediately thought oh my god someone died. It hit me. He wasn’t going to make it.

My Grandpa died alone and broke because someone stole his entire savings. She stole my Great-Grandparents’ money and independence. Her actions also greatly affected my Mom and Bamma (their daughter).

My Great Grandparents are victims of elder abuse and the perpetrator will be sentenced on Wednesday. Since they are unable to speak, my hope is to tell their story for them.

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My Great Grandparents

This year my Great Grandparents will be married for 74 years. My Grandpa, Ray, served in WWII. After the war he returned to northeastern Ohio where we he owned his own surveying business; you can still see his building in Painesville, Ohio. During WWII my Great Grandma, Eleanor, gave birth to my Grandma (my Bamma), Barbara. Later they would have a son.

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My Grandma with her daughter, Barbara.

My Great Grandparents were awesome. They lived in Ohio but would spend most of the bitter winters in Florida, which I loved because my family lived in Texas during that time; my Mom would take us kids to visit them. Me and my Grandpa would play Go-Fish for hours. Insisting he needed a drink of water, my Grandpa would sneak exaggerated glances at my cards as he walked around the round table. Every night we watched Wheel of Fortune. During the winter my Grandma would send us oranges and grapefruits through the mail. Illegal for sure, but my Grandma didn’t care. Grandpa would tell me stories of living through the Great Depression; my favorite tale being when he painted his ankles with shoe polish to conceal the fact that his family couldn’t afford socks. I remember when he bought an Apple computer and we sat together laughing at how the machine pronounced “Ray Dillworth” in its robot voice. He always had to have the newest technology; my Bamma told me that he owned the first color TV in their small town of Thompson, Ohio. They loved John Wayne movies and even had a framed picture of the western star hung up in their hallway.

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My Grandparents (on the right) being bowling badasses.

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Me, My Dad, and Grandpa laughing at us

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My Grandma in one of her famous blue pantsuits

Over the past 15 years or so my Grandma started losing her memory. At the time I didn’t understand dementia–I thought it was just a phase and the mind would return–but it progressively got worse. During visits she transitioned from asking if we wanted a soda a couple of times to asking for our names. My Grandpa’s mind remained strong, but his health was terrible. Every night my Grandma still walked their property, around the ponds my Grandpa had made and the beautiful gardens he maintained. I didn’t realize how bad things were until I saw my Grandfather unable to tend to his lawn anymore. Together they sat in their matching armchairs each night after dinner.

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My Mom with Grandpa

Three years ago my Grandma’s health regressed so badly that she now needed 24 hour care. I was heartbroken when I learned that she accidentally threw away her wedding ring. Initially, Grandpa put Grandma in a nursing home because he was weary of strangers. Because of the terrible care she was given, Grandma moved back to their house a few months later. My Grandfather, having saved his money for all those years knowing my Grandmother would eventually need round-the-clock care, hired in-home nurses to be at the house at every hour; the price of her care being $240/day. Fiercely independent, he hated the fact that strangers were in his home, but knew my Grandma needed the care. She was unable to really move at this point, scarcely the Grandma of my youth who always gave us hugs, kisses, and secret candy. You know those awesome Grandma hugs? The ones where you’re held so tightly you can’t breathe but you feel so loved. The room she now slept in was my old room that I used when I stayed over. Her new bed was in my old bed’s spot, the place where my Grandma would read to me–our favorite was A Very Hungry Caterpillar–as well as the old dollhouse that Grandpa made from a TV that only I was allowed to play with. All of the little house’s quilts, curtains, and rugs were handmade by my Grandma.

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Me with Grandpa

Initially our cousin was taking care of Grandma, but she proved to be inept at the job. Michelle Baker was hired to work part time then took over after Grandpa fired our cousin. He immediately fell for Michelle. He really took a liking to her which she would eventually abuse and use to her gain. She, along with a couple of other nurses and my Mom (as well as my sister when in town), split each day at my Grandparents’ house. When I visited for my sister’s wedding I realized that my Grandfather wasn’t as sharp as he used to be. Wearing the same shirt a couple of days in a row, he sometimes struggled to finish sentences. We still talked about his time in South Carolina and how the Cavs were playing, but for the first time I actually saw that my Grandpa was aging. My Grandma was in great care, finally looking like herself with her hair styled and her bed covered with blue blankets. She always loved blue; she had every shade of blue pantsuit you can imagine. While she couldn’t really speak, while I was there she (out of the blue!) swore at my Grandpa in Hungarian. Just like she used to when we were younger, giving him the eye from across the table while he laughed. On one of my last visits she met her Great-Great-Granddaughter Caroline. Hearing the baby cry, Grandma actually opened her eyes and said my baby.

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Grandma with Caroline

 

Michelle ran everything–the schedule, payments, and helping out Grandpa. She accompanied him on trips to the casino and even to my sister’s wedding. She could do no wrong in his eyes and flirted with him constantly. Michelle began stealing in 2013, but with Bamma being sick and Grandpa now fully trusting her (including giving her full access to his finances) she started becoming bolder. She went from occasionally using Grandpa’s car to setting up fake accounts to launder money from their savings. When speaking to banks she would claim to be his daughter or granddaughter.

Becoming suspicious of Michelle’s increasingly erratic behavior, Bamma found that Michelle had stolen over half a million dollars from my Grandparents, essentially leaving them penniless.

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Grandpa with my sister at her wedding. Michelle was his “date.”

My Grandma moved in to my Mom’s house this January, forcing my Mom to be her 24 hour nurse; there was no money left to pay anyone and Mom couldn’t stomach Grandma being placed in a state facility. My once proud and independent Grandfather was now on food stamps, leaving Bamma to pay the bills that Social Security didn’t cover.When she realized that she was busted, Michelle stole the final month of caregiver pay; Grandpa’s Buick was sold to help pay the last month of wages. My final visit before moving overseas I bought Grandpa groceries and laid his medicine out for him, although I doubt he took it. He lost Medicare Part B because he couldn’t afford the monthly payment of $240. Worried about the upcoming winter, I asked how heat was going to be covered considering the older, drafty house. He’s on oxygen, my Mom said, it’s illegal for them to turn off the electricity. 

 

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Michelle confessed to stealing the money both in person and online. She managed to steal my Grandparents’ entire life savings. She forged checks, used their Sears account, and withdrew cash. Money was spent on presents for her children, a trip to Florida for her boyfriend, they even attempted to buy a condo… Money spent for the care of my Grandma, married to my Grandpa for 74 years. There are even surveillance videos of Michelle leaving a casino; she lost over $476,000 in one year alone. Sitting across from me at my own sister’s wedding, she spoke of how much she respected my Grandparents; not too long after she would begin draining their accounts.

According to the CDC, elder abuse is defined as an intentional act, or failure to act, by a caregiver or another person in a relationship involving an expectation of trust that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult. The Older Americans Act of 2006 defines elder financial abuse as the fraudulent or otherwise illegal, unauthorized, or improper act or process of an individual, including a caregiver or fiduciary, that uses the resources of an older individual for monetary or personal benefit, profit, or gain, or that results in depriving an older individual of rightful access to, or use of, benefits, resources, belongings, or assets. What the definition doesn’t include is the impact of these actions on the family. My mother is a essentially a prisoner in her own home, slowly watching her grandmother die. My beautiful, sassy, wonderful Grandma now reduced to not knowing her name or my Mom. My Grandfather, having served in WWII, now sitting alone and receiving deliveries from Meals on Wheels. My Bamma, struggling to figure out how to account for all of this corruption, now speaking with lawyers and banks on what to do, nervously wringing her arthritic hands whenever we speak on Facetime.

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Even after Michelle was arrested, my Grandpa still claimed that she hadn’t stolen it all. I honestly just don’t think he had the mental capacity to both comprehend the situation and understand the impact. Now, at age 93, he constantly accused my Bamma of stealing his savings–even maintaining Michelle’s innocence after seeing the confession and speaking to the Prosecutor–so confused about everything. I believe the combination of his crush on her (a much younger woman fawning over him) and that he felt sorry for her (she had two children by her cheating boyfriend in 11 months) fed into his confusion. She blatantly used his affection and growing dementia to take everything.

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Grandpa channeling his inner Bob Ross.

My Grandpa had a heart attack during the first big Ohio snowstorm. After being rushed to the hospital, he had a difficult time recovering because his veins were so weak. He suffered another heart attack later that day and was revived, but his heart just could no longer keep him alive. Because of the snow, my family was unable to drive to the hospital. My Grandpa, one of the most caring and funny men I’ve ever met, died alone. I wish I could have driven there, Bamma said to me yesterday, I hope my father didn’t die thinking I stole from him.

I can’t even imagine that feeling. I can’t begin to think about what my Bamma is going through. I can’t begin to understand what my Mom is going through, having to take care of my Grandma all day, every day as she grows more angry and her health continues to decline. Now she doesn’t even know she’s a widow. She couldn’t say goodbye to her husband of 74 years. Grandpa died without even a final visit to my Grandma.

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Grandma with my Mom

Michelle Baker took everything from my Grandparents, my Mom, and my Bamma. I want to tell this story because they can’t. I want to tell this story because one in every five people over the age of 65 are victims of financial fraud and yet there are no statistics on the exact amount of abuse or prosecutions. My Grandparents were clearly not in the right state of mind and this woman mercilessly preyed on them as a source of income. A woman trusted for the care of his wife, Michelle drained the funds for Grandma’s health and spent the money on trips across the United States and salon appointments for her hair.

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Left-Right: My Uncle Jason, Bamma, Grandpa, Grandma, Mom, Dad, and Me

She has been charged with three felonies: theft from a protected person, money laundering, and misuse of a credit card. In order to save the county money, she will not have a trial with a jury. Michelle was also offered a plea bargain; her sentencing is this Wednesday. Even if she’s given the full sentence, it doesn’t change what has happened. There is no real justice to be had. She can’t take back what has happened to my Grandfather struggling to survive and dying alone or my Grandmother out of her own home and away from her husband now at the end of her life. Or my Mom. Or my Bamma. My Grandparents’ house Bamma was hoping to stay in the family that she is now forced to sell. Michelle should be held accountable for her actions, even if it doesn’t bring any of it back. She destroyed their lives because she was selfish. Because she could.

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My Grandparents with me, my sister, and brother in their gazebo.

I never thought this would happen to my Grandparents, but I guess that’s every story. Thank you for reading their story. I only can hope that on Wednesday justice is served, even if its too late to save my Grandparents.

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Their Wedding Day.

 

 

 

Grandpa thank you for always believing in me. Telling me how smart I am and making me laugh. I hope in the end you knew that we were all there with you. I am so sorry that all of this happened. But we are going to try as hard as we can to make sure she can’t do this to anyone else.

 

Listening to: The End Of Love by Alexandre Desplat

Coffee, a Church, and a Castle: Our Trip to Bratislava, Slovakia

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Last weekend Chris and I visited the capital of nearby Slovakia, Bratislava.

Slovakia: An Extremely Brief History of the Country From 1000 (no joke) to Present 

But seriously, read more about Slovakia.  Artifacts dating from 270,000 BC have been found.

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Only 90 minutes away!

 

Originally annexed into the Kingdom of Hungary (1000-1918), the Slovaks mutually merged with Bohemia, Moravia, Czech Silesia, and Carpathian Ruthenia to form the country of Czechoslovakia in 1918. Under pressure from Hungary and Germany, the country broke up in 1939–portions were annexed by Hungary as well as Germany–with the remaining land mass now named Czecho-Slovakia. Again, under threat from the Germans, Slovakia seceded and aligned with Nazi Germany until Czechoslovakia was reformed following WWII. In 1948, the country became occupied by the Soviet Union (which led to one of my favorite protests in sport by Vera Caslavska at the 1968 Olympics). Following the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, Czechoslovakia earned autonomy once again. The Czech Republic and Slovakia mutually went their separate ways in 1993 in what is known as the Velvet Divorce (sassy!) although they remain close allies.

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Says the Slovaks to the Soviets. At least that’s how I imagine it.

Bratislava Castle: Originally a stone palace in the 11th century, reconstructed in 1423, additions made in 1768, nearly completely destroyed by fire from the “carelessness of garrison soldiers” in 1811, and fully reconstructed starting in 1953.

Entering the city of Bratislava is interesting because on the one hand you’re driving on this modern highway but there are literally portions of a castle wall above you as you follow under an overpass.

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On Saturday we made the trek up to the gorgeous castle. Thankfully it wasn’t too windy but it was super chilly; I was glad I decided to wear Chris’s super thick work socks.

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The view of the city was amazing. Apparently on clear days you can see all the way to Austria and Hungary.

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Christmas Market: I Lose Out on a Beautiful Antique Pitcher Because I’m not Aggressive Enough 

No seriously. This lady totally swooped in and took the pitcher I was interested in. I didn’t realize how cutthroat European markets can be.

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Lesson learned. 

The markets were held all across Old Town.

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This was a favorite: Fake Jousting. A man would push a “horse” and the rider would attempt to hit the mark with the jousting stick. 

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St. Elisabeth’s Blue Church: Built in 1907-1908 and Consecrated to Elisabeth of Hungary

Our last morning in the city we visited the Blue Church. So gorgeous! We weren’t able to tour the inside because there was a Sunday service, but it was amazing to just stand outside.

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The school next door was originally used by the church.

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Cafe & Restaurants: I  ❤ you Slovakian Food

As noted at least a thousand times in previous blogs, breakfast is my favorite. We went to Urban House because they had an amazing coffee menu and VEGETARIAN ENGLISH BREAKFAST. Which I’ve always wanted to have but with, you know, the meat and questionable pork content in baked beans, I’ve never had the option.

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Oh and the avocado toast because hello, homeade rye bread. 

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Kale was the best part! Even Chris liked it!

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Totally stalked this dog walking out of Urban House. He had a scarf, vest, and coat on. 

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During the trip we had drinks at a couple of places, although the Irish Pub and KGB Pub were clear favorites. Slovenska Pivaren was also great; get the potato dumplings in goat cheese and sour cream sauce. Trust me.

Chris could smoke inside at the Dubliner and do I need to explain why I skipped down the stairs to the underground USSR-inspired bar?

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Dubliner

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KGB

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KGB

 

After visiting the castle we stopped by Eleven Books & Coffee which is hands down one of the best places we’ve visited and absolutely a must-see in the city. A small used bookstore that serves coffee, tea, a couple of beers, and wine, it was a perfect stop after a chilly two mile walk.

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Sound Advice

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I ordered the first mulled wine they sold all season! Chris had an IPA.

I also picked up a couple of books that I can’t wait to start reading. They came with bookmarks and chocolates that say “Books and chocolate are the answer! Wishing you a sweet reading experience.”

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For Dinner we ate at Re.Fresh which was gorgeous and super filling. We were a little meh when we saw that it was a “club” but then realized the club and restaurant were on separate floors. I mean, I’m definitely pro-European Discoteque but alas Chris (surprise, surprise!) is not.

I’m so glad we went. They have great vegan, vegetarian, and meat options. Plus Saturday’s special was mushroom paprikosh! YAAAAASSSSS. The Slovakian version is with potato dumplings, not spaetzle (Hungarian/German) or traditional flour dumplings (Hungarian/Russian), but it was a good take on [my favorite] dish.

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Ceiling

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Wud Up Paprikosh

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Chris’s burger + fries

On our last morning we stopped at the very adorable and delicious U Kubistu cafe on our way back from the Blue Church. We made it just in time for breakfast. Our server was AMAZING. The coffee was great and so were our dishes. A limited menu that changes daily depending on seasonality (yaasssss), it was one of my favorite places since moving to Europe. Plus when our coffee arrived, Superfreak was playing, so bonus points.

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Cappuccino 

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Latte

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Chris’s breakfast of beans and eggs (with homemade sauce and bread)

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My breakfast. First time having Socca.

 

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Across the street.

A few other pictures:

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Beer haul (the Fiesta was the beer Chris had at Eleven)

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Sheep at the castle!

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Books at our AirB&B

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Bonus Picture of my market mug and Ike being crabby. It’s too cold to lay outside so he has to sit indoors like a peasant. You can literally see his disdain for me in his shoulder hunch.

 

❤ Ashlyn

Listening to: Jackie Motion Picture Soundtrack by Mica Levi

Dessert Obsession: Eleven Books & Coffee Dark Chocolate