Larry Nassar's crimes may be even more heinous than previously known. In her new book, The Girls: An All-American Town, a Predatory Doctor, and the Untold Story of the Gymnasts Who Brought Him Down, out today, Abigail Pesta tells the story of the USA Gymnastics doctor's likely first victim. Sara Teristi was just 14 years old when she first encountered Nassar at Great Lakes Gymnastics in Lansing, Michigan, in 1988. For three years she suffered through his vile and abusive "medical procedures" and "treatments," including being groped and molested, because he was a doctor and she was a child. She continued to push through serious injuries—including broken ribs, a snapped sternum, and a fractured tailbone—because gymnastics was her passion, her world. She was hoping to earn a college scholarship to repay her parents for their years of supporting her in the sport. Then, one morning in 1991, when she was a senior in high school, she knew she had to quit. She told herself for years that it was because she couldn't compete through the injuries any longer, but in the back of her mind she knew that wasn't quite right. It wasn't until the Nassar scandal made headlines and she began telling her story to Pesta that the truth came back to her. After several months of recounting her story, memories bubbled up to the surface of her psyche. Finally, the worst memory revealed itself: When Teristi was a teen, Nassar lured her to his apartment under the pretenses of a research project and anally raped her.
Nassar has been convicted of 10 counts of criminal sexual conduct and will spend the rest of his life behind bars. According to Pesta, many of the victims she interviewed for the book told her that Nassar "penetrated them vaginally or anally with his bare hands, while pretending to treat them." But Teristi's revelations show that the abuse went much further than people realize, hers being the second accusation of rape against Nassar. In September 2018, Erika Davis, a former Michigan State University field hockey player, filed a lawsuit alleging that Nassar, then in practice at MSU's College of Osteopathic Medicine, raped her and that several MSU officials covered it up. In December of last year, investigators announced they found no evidence to support a coverup. The lawsuit is still pending.
Pesta weaves Teristi's truths throughout the book, showing how, as his likely first victim, Nassar used Teristi to test how he could prey on young patients, learning how far he could go before they would object. It's part of the reason why Pesta endeavored to write the book. Interviewing his victims "provided profound insight into his evolution, and his enablers," Pesta says. "I also interviewed parents, coaches, legal experts, and many others, and reviewed hundreds of pages of court documents, to show Nassar’s transformation from doctor to predator."
Pesta first met Teristi in the spring of 2018. After being connected by Michigan attorney James White, Pesta traveled to North Carolina where Teristi now lives with her husband and two sons. Over the course of dozens of in-person conversations, calls, emails, and texts, Sara revealed the abuse she suffered as a child at Great Lakes Gymnastics. One day, several months after their first meeting, Teristi texted Pesta that they should talk. "I called her, and she told me that she had remembered everything. It was unthinkable," says Pesta. "Sara bravely shared her story to help people recognize the signs of a predator. Her courage and strength is incredible—a powerful force against [men like this]." Since disclosing the horrors to Pesta, Teristi reported the rape to the police. At that point, Nassar was already in jail. His attorneys told Pesta he would not answer any questions about it.
Despite some resolution in Nassar's case—he was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison—it's vital that stories like Teristi's and that of his other victims are told in books like this. Says Pesta: "I wanted to help people understand how this travesty had happened, in the hopes of helping to prevent it from happening again."
Correction: This story previously stated that Nassar was convicted of seven counts of criminal sexual conduct. The number is, in fact, 10.
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Danielle McNally is a National Magazine Award–winning journalist. She is the executive editor of Marie Claire, overseeing features across every topic of importance to the MC reader: beauty, fashion, politics, culture, career, women's health, and more. She has previously written for Cosmopolitan, DETAILS, SHAPE, and Food Network Magazine.
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