(WTVG) - A local gymnastics coach is under fire after accusations of physical and emotional abuse of minor athletes.
The girls who participated in this report said they were afraid to come forward, which is why we kept their identities concealed and their voices altered. But they say they want to share their stories in the hope that they can help other families stop abuse in sports.
These athletes wanted to make their complaints public as a lengthy probe concludes by the U.S. Center for Safe Sport, an organization that is federally mandated to protect Olympic and Paralympic athletes by training coaches and sanctioning those who don’t comply.
Amy Nyman is seeking to have the findings reversed, but for now she is suspended from USA Gymnastics (USAG), and all contact with the gymnasts, for 18 months.
“When I would walk into the gym for practice, fear would just come over me,” says one gymnast.
“I would pull up to the gym and see her car, and cry and beg my mom not to make me go,” says another.
13abc spoke to six young gymnasts about their time working under coach Nyman at New Heights Gymnastics, a competitive gym with locations in Wauseon and Maumee that she founded.
After complaints about Nyman’s coaching practices, Nyman was investigated by the U.S. Center for SafeSport. Twelve gymnasts were claimants in that investigation. The gymnasts’ accusations were also reflected in a confidential decision/report issued by Safe Sport.
Gymnastics training is year-round -– four hours a day, five days a week, plus camps, tours and meets on weekends.
Athletes said scoring a spot at New Heights is a big deal; it’s the best gym in the area and was a member of USAG, giving a gymnast a path toward college recruitment. But the gymnasts also said the thrill quickly evaporated.
“She would just yell at me until I sobbed,” says one gymnast.
“I was scared to go to the bathroom,” says a second.
“I feel like that she just wanted to embarrass you in front of everyone,” says a third.
The girls recall receiving punishments, what they saw as excessive and dangerous sports conditioning, for anything from poor performance to being afraid to try a new skill.
Nyman categorically denies the allegations and in a statement to 13abc, her gym writes, “Throughout this lengthy and debilitating process, the Nymans and New Heights have cooperated every step of the way with the investigation, believing that the outcome would undoubtedly shed light on the truth: Ms. Nyman’s innocence.”
Nyman is appealing SafeSport’s findings against her, which won’t become final until after arbitration. You can read the entire statement from New Heights by clicking here.
Former gymnast Janelle Rubel trained with Nyman for ten years in the early 2000s. She loved her time there, and never expected to hear allegations like this about Nyman.
“I was really sad and kind of heartbroken that people thought of Amy that way because we definitely didn’t,” she says.
Rubel’s teammate Jeni Kmic feels the same.
“She’s an amazing person,” says Kmic. “She’s very devoted to her career, to her faith, and I don’t think it’s fair what’s going on.”
Documents obtained by 13abc outline SafeSport’s findings. In them, SafeSport details claims of extreme conditioning, including excessive rope climbs in leotards.
“I honestly still have scars from climbing rope on my inner thigh,” says one gymnast to 13abc, as she said to SafeSport.
“Running until you throw up,” another recalls.
“I was once assigned 1,000 push-ups,” a third shares the story she told SafeSport.
Rubel remembers conditioning but says it is not a punishment.
“Build your strength with sit-ups, push-ups,” she says, "so these drills to make your body know what movements it should do.”
In a letter to New Heights families, the gym denied all allegations of extreme conditioning, writing, “at no time has an athlete been required to perform 1,000 push-ups nor any other excessive levels of physical conditioning.”
Also revealed in the SafeSport document: the girls alleged they would train and compete on injuries because they were too afraid to say no.
“I used to be afraid to tell them something would hurt,” says one gymnast.
“I was scared to tell my coaches if I was injured because I was afraid that they would yell at me,” another shares.
“I’ve never experienced being afraid, and she always had our care in mind,” says Kmic. “We took time to stretch, we took time to ice, we took time to do physical therapy.”
In the course of the investigation, SafeSport found that gymnasts were made to keep food journals. Kmic and Rubel both kept food journals during their time training with Nyman.
“Those food journals were used as a tool to help us understand the level of nutrition and what we needed in order to excel and be able to do the things that we were asked to do,” says Kmic.
“She did tell somebody one time to lay off the cheeseburgers,” one gymnast recalls.
“She called people fat flat out and did not even care,” says another.
The girls tell 13abc the experience was isolating.
“I was afraid to tell my parents if anything was wrong because then I would be afraid that they would go tell Coach Amy,” one gymnast remembers.
“I started bawling because I was afraid I was going to get in trouble for talking to my parents,” another claims.
But other gymnasts didn’t see her that way. Rubel describes Nyman as a second mother who shaped her into the woman she is today, and says her parents agree.
“She’s everything you would want a coach to be,” says Rubel. “She pushes you. She wants you to do the best that you can. And outside of the sport, she still wants you to succeed in your personal life.”
The SafeSport document chronicles what the girls allege was a toxic culture of degradation and fear.
“Amy said to me that I was never going to amount to anything … you’re not smart enough,” says one gymnast.
“Since she told you how you were all the time, like how you were worthless and you were wasting time and money and stuff like that, it just became believable,” another said.
Again, other gymnasts had a very different view. “I always felt like Amy lifted me up. She always told me how strong I was, how I deserved the best,” says Kmic.
The allegations of abuse date back to 2002, although the first complaint in this case was reported in 2017.
Nyman was suspended for 12 months for retaliation against two coaches who participated in the investigation, and 6 months for misconduct, including the alleged abuse and consuming alcohol in front of minor athletes. According to the decision, that penalty was chosen in part because there were no allegations of any physical contact at all by Nyman, and no prior complaints about Nyman to SafeSport.
“I think it’s unfair … It’s been going on for years, and she gets six months?” one gymnast said.
“She should never be able to step foot on a gymnastics floor ever again,” says a second.
Over the last few days, 13abc has received many letters and phone calls in support of Nyman from families who have attended New Heights. In those letters, one gymnast claims that she is a witness to some of the alleged misconduct and that they never happened.
The accuracy of all these allegations will be examined in arbitration, and if Nyman is successful, the sanctions could be thrown out. That arbitration is set to take place at the end of the month.
In their statement, New Heights refuted all claims against Nyman, writing, “Ms. Nyman categorically denies the accusations that have been made against her at USA Gymnastics and the US Center for SafeSport and she is actively defending herself through an upcoming legal arbitration process.”
New Heights remains open and neither the gym nor any other coaches have been found to have engaged in misconduct. However, the gym has lost its USAG membership pending the outcome of the arbitration.