2018-01-25 / Front Page

Bingham coach regrets knowing Nassar

Gymnast doctor sentenced

FORMER MSU sports doctor Larry Nassar is accused of molesting more than 100 young women, including three from the Traverse City area. FORMER MSU sports doctor Larry Nassar is accused of molesting more than 100 young women, including three from the Traverse City area. A Bingham Township resident and gymnastic coach recalls Larry Nassar as being somewhat “nerdy” while having a brilliant mind for developing treatments to help young gymnasts recover from injuries.

He also wishes that he had never met the man, and that he hadn’t unknowingly served as a go-between that led to three Traverse City-area girls being treated — and sexually abused — by the former team doctor for Michigan State University gymnastic’s team and USA Gymnastics.

“I was disgusted by what I heard in court,” said Pat Varley, who is a graphic designer for the Leelanau Enterprise.

Varley became involved in gymnastics for the exact opposite motivation that may have brought Nassar into the field of sports medicine. Varley, after attending college in the 1970s, saw the growth of women’s sports as a way to empower young athletes.

“I felt gymnastics and other sports would teach strength and self-reliance and confidence. And I think we saw that in court last week,” Varley said.

He was referring to a long line up of women survivors who wanted their stories to become evidence that they hope will lead to a long sentence for Nassar. Court documents show that his abuse of young girls may have begun in 1994 with a future USA Olympic medalist, and continued into 2015.

The NCAA yesterday said it plans to investigate Michigan State University for its handling of sexual abuse complaints that were largely ignored while Nassar continued to treat members of the Spartan gymnastic team.

Varley admits to “not being built” to become a gymnast, but nonetheless worked out with the Central Michigan University gymnastic team in the 1970s while attending school there. One of his college friends started a gym in Rochester in 1980, and asked Varley to help part-time. After USA gold medalist Mary Lou Retton’s performance in 1984 increased enrollment from 300 students to 1,100 over a three week period, Varley was hired full time.

He met Nassar in the mid-1980s when an athlete suffered a serious leg injury.

“The doctors kept telling us she didn’t break her leg. So we took her to Harper Grace Hospital, which had a new sports medicine center. An athletic trainer named Larry Nassar was in charge of about a dozen physical therapists. He was working with the Pistons and all the (Detroit) sports teams,” Varley recalled.

Narrar used breakthrough technology — an MRI machine — to find a broken bone that did not show up on X-rays.

“The doctors wrote about it in the journals. It was a big deal,” Varley recalled.

Nassar started making regular visits to the gym employing Varley, but Varley is certain no abuse occurred there as athletes were tended to in the open in the middle of the gym. “There was no private examination room,” he said.

Meanwhile, Nassar’s career was spiraling upward, Varley recalled, as he was in demand for his treatment methods and had invented and was selling orthopedic braces for injuries often incurred by gymnasts.

“This guy, as far as I knew, never slept. He was going everywhere, all the time. I think he only slept 3-4 hours a night,” Varley said.

Eventually Nassar attended medical school at MSU and started a practice in Lansing. Varley moved to Leelanau County where his parents were living and started working for the Enterprise.

But Varley kept an involvement in gymnastics, working part-time for Water’s Edge Gymnastics. In an effort to help athletes who were injured, he reached out to Nassar.

“He has always been on the cutting edge. People would say, ‘That’s not going to work,’ but it always did. And we felt good about getting those kids in there because kids came literally from around the world to get in. He was doing me a favor. I just didn’t know.”

One of those Traverse City athletes treated by Nassar testified in the sentencing hearing. Amy Labadie, now 29, said the abuse she endured has never left her.

Beckey Burden-Cuddeback is owner of Waters Edge, and a coach at the time.

“Larry Nassar,” she told a reporter for Up North Live, “we hear the words abused, assault, molest. He raped those girls. He raped them. And he raped our sport. He took away something beautiful from so many people and I for one am not going to allow him to destroy these kids, to destroy our sport.”

Added Varley, “I’ve been thinking about it a lot. What can the medical community do to stop this from happening? It shocked me.”

Nassar was scheduled to be sentenced yesterday. He faced up to 125 years in prison. He pleaded guilty to first degree criminal sexual conduct in November.

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