Commentary

Swimmer shares story of molestation

Caution: This story and video contain mature subject matter.

Updated: May 9, 2010, 5:13 PM ET
By Julia | Special to ESPN.com

Editor's note: Julia is a 15-year-old girl from San Jose, Calif. For 10 months, beginning just after her 14th birthday, she was molested by her swim coach, Andy King, until she came forward and her parents called the police. Julia's cooperation with law enforcement led to King's conviction, ending what prosecutors said was 31 years of sexual abuse against a number of his young swimmers. King, 62, pleaded no contest to 20 counts of molestation and is serving a 40-year sentence at Mule Creek State Prison in California. This is Julia's story. She has requested that her last name not be used.

I love the water.

When I was 2, my dad would take me to a pool, throw coins to the bottom and have me dive down and grab the coins.

I was probably 8 when I found out that I'm a really good kicker. I could kick as fast as some of my friends if they were wearing fins. That's when I started dreaming of being an Olympic swimmer. I felt powerful; I could do whatever I wanted in swimming.

My parents put me into competitive swimming -- I didn't want to at first, but I'm glad they did -- and when I was 10, I was doing well in what we called the pre-nationals group. I had to make a lot of sacrifices; I wanted to go to places and have play dates with my friends, but when they asked whether I could hang out, I'd say, "No, I have practice."

I also knew that if I was going to get better, I would have to have better coaching. The coach of the nationals group at our year-round club was a man named Andy King.

I would see him at the pool when I was younger, and he'd be yelling at the older kids and saying how bad they were at swimming or how they weren't pushing themselves hard enough. Andy was really intimidating. I did not want to be coached by him when I was younger. When I saw him at the pool he would say, "When are you going to move up? You have the skills; when are you going to move up?"

Andy was really persistent. I enjoyed knowing that he thought I had potential, and as I progressed, I eventually realized that I would have to be coached by this really tall, scary, intimidating guy. He was the top national group coach, so I had to be coached by him in order to reach my goals. So I wrote him a letter saying, "I'd like to join your group. My goals are to improve in my butterfly and backstroke and to improve my freestyle, and to make it to the Olympics one day."

The workouts were intense. We swam two to three hours a day six days a week, but I like the way you feel after a long workout, and I was getting stronger.

Out of the pool, there was a strange physical closeness with him. You know how you have that boundary space? He just would break the boundary and stand really close when he was talking to you, or he would touch your shoulder while he would be talking to you. I didn't like it, but I just thought it was his way of communication.

I honestly don't recall when the molestation started. I just blocked out some of the memories. I deleted them. I know it was in the spring of 2008. I do remember that later that year, in December, right after the Junior Olympics, I injured my right shoulder. Because I was injured, Andy had time alone with me in his office in the shed next to the pool. He would massage my shoulder, saying that it was good for blood flow. The idea of a massage wasn't so strange -- I saw him massaging a few of the girls, but never the guys. That later became the routine -- going into his office, him massaging my shoulder -- but eventually, his hands would wander. It became molestation. I'm not comfortable saying more than that. That's my choice.

I do remember that the first time he did this, I was in shock. I didn't know what was happening or what was going on. I was confused and scared. I thought, "Why did he choose me?" I didn't know what to do. I didn't know whether I should tell him to stop, because if I told him to stop, what if he would hurt me? I didn't say anything.

I felt sick to my stomach, and I felt disgusted. I felt a lot of shame and horror. At first it happened maybe once a week. After I was injured it became just about every day.

There was one time an adult from our club walked in, and she seemed surprised to see me in Andy's office. Andy acted as though he wasn't doing anything, and she just left. I was hoping she would say something or catch him, but she didn't.

I wanted to tell somebody, but I didn't because I thought they wouldn't believe me. Andy was seen as a great coach, and if I told somebody that he was doing these bad things, I thought they would say, "Oh, you're lying," or, "Oh, you're just trying to get him in trouble." So I didn't tell people on the swim team.

I also felt I couldn't tell my parents. If you were a teenage girl and this was happening to you, I don't think you'd want to tell your parents, either. I'm not saying I have a bad relationship with them -- I have a great relationship with my parents -- but that's just something awkward to discuss.

I dealt with this by thinking this was something that he was doing, and it was like a different part of my life that I could choose to relate to the rest of my life or not. I chose not to. So that was like the hellish, torturous part of my life, but the rest was fine. I think I boxed some of my thoughts while he was doing this.

It all made me more quiet. I talked less to my family and some friends. I kept to myself more, I kept it all inside me and I really didn't want to go to practice. I would purposefully be late -- when my mom would come to pick me up from school, she'd call me and I would say, "Oh, I'm on the other side of the quad, let me walk to you," and I'd walk super, super slowly. But I also felt I had to go because of my teammates. Swimming is an individual sport, but there is a lot of bonding.

In March 2009, Andy left for vacation and said he'd be back in April. I liked that he was gone, and I liked not having this happen to me. And so I decided that I didn't want him to come back. I thought that with Andy away I could somehow tell someone. I told a girl at school who wasn't really a close friend of mine, but I felt she was someone in whom I could confide. I don't remember what I said, but I remember I was crying a lot. She said that it was OK. She is not really the affectionate, pat-on-the-back type of person, and we're not the closest friends, so it made it even weirder for her. But even though it may have seemed weird for her, it was good for me to get it off my chest.

She said that I had to tell somebody of authority, like a teacher or the police or my parents. I said no, because honestly I was freaked out, and I would rather have somebody else do it for me. Later that day, I had a science class, and there were instructions written on the board that said to get into groups of three and tell the people in the group what has been on your heart lately. And so I told the two girls in my group what had happened. It felt good to tell people what was going on, and they also said that I had to tell someone. So that Sunday, I told my youth pastor. He asked me whether I wanted him to tell my parents, and I said yes.

After my parents met with him, they came home and came into my room and sat down on the bed with me. My dad said he was really proud of what I did, that it took courage to speak up. He said we would need to report this to help prevent Andy from doing this to anyone again.

I felt relief. I was relieved knowing that it would all be over.

The next day, my father arranged with local police to come in and gather information about what had happened. They asked me many questions, and a detective wanted me to talk to Andy and tape the call to get him to admit to what he was doing. I had stopped going to practice, and my younger sister, who was also on the team, stopped going, too. When Andy learned we left the team, he kept calling my cell phone and my mom's, but my mom didn't want me to answer. I told her she should answer it because it would seem stranger if we didn't. But at the suggestion of the police, we kept quiet about it to help the investigation.

When we finally set up the call to tape him, my heart was beating really fast because I was afraid I might mess up. But it was easy for me because I had taken acting classes in eighth grade and had learned how to keep my voice steady. It was a challenge, but I managed to get through it. The detective was there with me, and he would write down on a notepad a question that he would like me to ask Andy, and I would make it flow into the conversation. I asked Andy why he did the things that he did, and he responded, "I thought you liked it."

I was so angry when I heard him say that. I do not remember what I replied, but what I would have liked to have said was, "How could you say that I liked something so disgusting? That's just not something someone as old as you should do to someone as young as me." He cried on the phone and said he really cared about me. I thought it was pathetic.

Andy was arrested after that, and word spread quickly. Some of the other swimmers didn't believe me. Some were supportive and others were not, but once the reports of the other … victims came forward, I think they believed me.

I feel no pity for Andy. He deserves what he got himself into. And he needs help. I feel for all the others he damaged over so many years.

Despite all the negative thoughts and feelings I have, I feel some strength from this whole thing, and I know it can make me wiser. I want to reach out to younger children and people my age. I feel that my story is very powerful, and if someone is going through what I went through or worse, she should know that it's OK, she's not alone, and she can stop what's happening if she speaks out.

The story of Julia and sexual abuse in youth swimming was reported by T.J. Quinn, an investigative reporter for ESPN's Enterprise Unit. He can be reached at tjquinn31@yahoo.com. Greg Amante, a producer for ESPN, produced the TV stories.

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