Oak Creek woman among those seeking Nassar settlement
Nicole Casady was no more than 15 years old when she first met Larry Nassar, nearly two decades before the Michigan State University doctor's name became synonymous with sexual assault.
While competing at a regional gymnastics event hosted by the club Twistars in Michigan, Casady injured her hamstring.
Hurt and far from her Kenosha home, she trusted her coaches and felt confident when she recognized the doctor on site: Nassar, the physician for USA Gymnastics.
"How exciting was it I get to be seen by the national team doctor," Casady said.
She had seen Nassar on television the year before, when he had
been in the huddle to help care for Kerri Strug after she limped off the vault exercise at the 1996 Olympics, having secured a gold medal for the team.
"I didn't know who he was other than I got to see him on TV," said Casady, now an Oak Creek mother of four. At the time, coaches told her: “You’re so lucky the Olympic doctor is here. He can treat you.”
Nassar had her lay on her stomach on the panel mats, off to the side of the competition area.
And then it happened.
"There was vaginal penetration on that first encounter," said Casady. "And for the rest of that weekend while I was there, the same treatments happened — but in my recollection they seemed to become more aggressive in nature."
Since 2016, nearly 500 women have come forward to say they endured similar experiences, all under the guise of treatment.
Like many of the other victims, Casady did not realize she had been assaulted — not until Nasser was exposed and the case received widespread media attention. At the time, she didn't know if it was or wasn't appropriate.
"Knowing what I know now, I would have identified that's obviously not right," said Casady, a nurse practitioner. "But being a 15-, 14-year-old child?"
She did not tell her parents what happened, other than the hamstring injury.
She came home to Kenosha and quit gymnastics.
"I just couldn't get myself to be in the gym," said Casady, who is telling her story for the first time. "I can put two and two together now; back then I don't think I realized it. I just used my hamstring as the reason."
A 'second wave' of victims
Nassar is in prison, and will remain there for life.
"I've just signed your death warrant," Michigan Judge Rosemarie Aquilina told the disgraced doctor last year when she sentenced him to 40 to 175 years in prison.
A month after that sentence was imposed, a second Michigan judge sentenced him to 40 to 125 years on a different set of charges. Before those sentences kick in, he must complete a 60year federal sentence for child pornography. Nassar, 55, is expected to complete that sentence in 2069, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
MSU agreed to pay a $500 million settlement to resolve claims brought by 332 Nassar victims. That settlement set aside $75 million for future claims — a figure those in the "second wave" of claimants object to because they had no say in the negotiations.
Casady is one of about 175 women represented by 36 law firms with claims pending against the university. Their case is to be heard by a mediator at the end of the month who will try to help the two sides reach an agreement.
A young start
When Casady began her gymnastics career, she was Nicole Anderson.
Like many gymnasts — she started very young. She was 4 years old when her mom, with no background in the sport herself, enrolled the energetic Nicole in local clubs in Kenosha.
The sport is demanding; its culture can be very tight knit, almost closed off to the outside world — two points Casady emphasized in an hour-long interview Thursday evening with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. For years, she spent 18 to 20 hours of practice a week in the gym.
"I didn't experience teenage normalcy the way that most kids probably do," said Casady.
About six months after quitting the sport in the wake of the Nassar assault at the Michigan event, she came back. "Gymnastics is kind of all I knew," she said. She missed it. Without it, she said, "you become a pretty lost kid."
Injuries are common in the sport. So is fighting through them. After breaking her neck on a fall from the high bar, in 2000 she became the all-around Level 10 state champion for Kenosha Tremper, which also won the state title in 2001.
After attending a Junior Olympics gymnastics event in East Lansing, she was determined to go to Michigan State — she loved everything about the school.
It is also same school where Nassar, a revered osteopathic physician, worked.
Assaults began during freshman year
At MSU, the hamstring injury came back, and Casady's freshman year was a struggle. She didn't earn her athletic scholarship that year. Her academics suffered and she became ineligible. Nevertheless, she was continually sent to Nassar.
"I was kind of nixed off the team," said Casady. "But that's when a lot of my treatments were actually happening with Larry, that first semester."
Casady estimates she endured 60 assaults from Nassar while at Michigan State; at least half of them happening that first semester. The fieldhouse on campus was under construction, so the sessions were held in pop-up campers. To this day, seeing such campers triggers anxiety for Casady.
Many of Nassar's victims have testified that they were assaulted in the midst of practices.
Casady said she and her teammates never really discussed Nassar's actions. Yet everyone knew what the supposed treatments involved.
"I can remember we would stretch after practice, and one of my teammates saying, 'OK, now it's my turn to get Larry's thumb up my a------,' " she said.
Like other victims, Casady said the recognition that what happened constituted assault — and that she was a victim — did not become fully clear until the Nassar case hit the media in 2016, including when he was sentenced to prison last year.
That's when she heard other survivors tell their stories.
She didn't even tell her husband, Joe, about the abuse until the middle of last year.
Telling him, she said, was “one of the
hardest things I’ve done thus far."
Legal claims seek more from MSU
The mediation this month is critical in terms of establishing what compensation the gymnasts in the second wave will receive. But it is also possible no agreement is reached, forcing lawsuits to continue.
In the earlier settlement, the first set of victims received a total of $425 million. For the 332 victims, the average is about $1.2 million. Of the $75 million to cover future claims, about $6 million will be deducted to pay MSU legal expenses, said Noah Domnitz, one of Casady's lawyers.
Thus, the women in the second wave would be able to receive an average of about $400,000 — one-third of the figure for the first group.
The women in the second wave argue they were not part of the earlier negotiations and are not bound by its terms.
"The $69 million number is a completely meaningless number to the wave two victims," said Ric Domnitz, attorney for Casady. "It's nothing more than a starting point for negotiations.
The dispute, which involves dozens of law firms representing the victims, will be mediated by Steven Rhodes, a retired chief bankruptcy judge.
"We are fighting just to be at the same level as they are," Casady said, referring to the first wave of victims. "When you look at the abuse, the abuse is not any different."
Whatever amount is ultimately paid to Casady and other victims — whether through an agreement or court verdict — Casady said it won't erase some 20 years of pain.
“I don’t think that there’s going to be a single price tag that you can place on the amount of abuse and trauma that any of us have had that would feel like it’s the right number," she said. "It’s a really difficult thing to say how much do you think your life is valued in dollars."
She credits the words of poet Maya Angelou with helping give her the courage to speak out.
Those words, she said, convinced her ''there’s nothing worse than an untold story. And I knew if I didn’t get some of my story this would kind of just sit with me and it wouldn’t resonate well for the rest of my life.”
"Knowing what I know now, I would have identified that's obviously not right. But being a 15-, 14-year-old child?" Nicole Casady, victim of convicted child molester Larry Nassar
Nicole Casady talks about her sexual abuse by Larry Nassar. Casady was a star gymnast at Case High school in Racine.