TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - Isabell Hutchins defines courage and strength. She is dignified, despite the fear and pain that caused her great suffering. But most importantly, Isabell Hutchins is a survivor.
Hutchins is one of more than 150 women who stood up to speak against the man that was responsible for hers and so many others' pain.
Wednesday, former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State doctor Larry Nassar received a 40 to 175 year sentence for raping his young patients during his decades-long career. Prosecutor Angela Povilaitis said during her emotional final statement that Nassar was, "possibly the most prolific serial child sex abuser in history."
Though Nassar pleaded guilty to seven rapes, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina allowed any woman who was molested by Nassar to have their voice heard at the sentencing hearing. Over the course of a week, 150 women either testified or had their testimonies read in court before the judge, courtroom and Nassar himself.
The Strength to Testify
Six days after testimonies began, Hutchins, a native of Rossford, Ohio, courageously stepped up to the podium inside the courtroom and opened up about the abuse she suffered at the hands of Nassar.
"I have sleepless nights especially recently because of his image of him and his treatments cause me to wake in a panic," Hutchins said during her testimony. "You didn't heal me. You only hurt me."
"I did not want to speak at all. I'm not a very comfortable person speaking with others, speaking in front of groups. It took a lot of thinking and support from my family and friends to get up there and speak," Hutchins told WTOL's Jerry Anderson. "I just wanted other girls to know that even if they're like me and they are afraid to speak or afraid to talk, they have a voice to or they can find their own courage."
Hutchins says as soon as she finished her testimony, she felt differently than she had before. She's confident with her held head high. When mentioning Nassar's sentence, she smirked when referencing Judge Aquilina's comment, "I just signed your death warrant."
"It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulder. I felt immediately better. Nassar getting sentenced and know he's never going to be a free man again, I'm starting to heal," Hutchins said. "I think the most healing part actually has been after I gave my statement, feeling that weight lifted, and then Judge Aquilina's words that she gave me was very helpful. 'You're strong. You do have a voice. And you're going to get through this.'"
Judge Aquilina received international acclaim during the week of testimonies by the Sister Survivors, her way of referring to the former patients of Larry Nassar. Aquilina spent time after each testimony giving words of strength and empowerment to the Sister Survivors as well as reminding the women that their abuse at the hands of Nassar does not define who they are.
"I think she just gave what every girl there needed. She gave them words of encouragement after each person spoke. She didn't put up with any of the crap that Larry was trying to do," Hutchins said. "She was just very poised and did a great job with the while thing."
At the age of 10, Isabell Hutchins, an aspiring gymnast at the prestigious Twistars Gymnastics, went to see the Larry Nassar for the first time. At the time, she was excited to receive treatment from what she was told was the best doctor in the business.
"He was the most trusted, the most known, the best gymnastics doctor that there was. And being at Twistars, I had no other option but to see him," Hutchins remembered. "And it felt like a privilege to see the Olympic team doctor."
Her injury was to her hamstring. It was so severe, the bone had actually fractured. The injury provided an opportunity for Nassar to take advantage his new, young patient.
"He said it was the best way to stretch it without pain," Hutchins said. "This is what he does."
Soon after her first treatments, Hutchins felt that something was wrong. She asked a friend who also had been receiving treatment from Nassar. She helped reassure Isabell that what Nassar was doing was for medical purposes, not his personal pleasure.
"After he did the things that he did, I questioned it at first. I even asked a friend about it. She reassured me, 'No, he does that to me too,'" Hutchins remembered. "And so being 10 and having a friend feel the same way and having the same thing happen to them, I said, 'Okay, it's fine. He's the doctor. He knows what he is doing.'"
Hutchins said she grew close to Nassar, seeing him as a role model rather than someone who was using her for more sinister reasons. She says it seemed like he was helping her family cover the costs of his treatment.
"He would even sneak me in the back door so that our insurance wouldn't cover it," Hutchins remembered. "He would sneak me in his back door and see me in his office so that we wouldn't have to pay for it out of pocket.
Coaches at Twisters seemed to ignore the abuse. The girls at the gym were told not to talk about what was going on inside the gym, despite the clear signs of abuse. That gave the girls a sense of loneliness.
"I never told anyone about it. I mean I didn't even realize it. And then even with all the stuff going on in the gym, with the horrible abuse going on from my coaches, I didn't want to say anything about it," Hutchins remembered. "They are the best coaches. I was told to keep quiet and if you spoke up, it was considered disrespectful. So I kinda just kept everything all to myself and dealt with it the way that I could."
For years, Hutchins continued to believe that each of the "treatments" she received from Hutchins was truly in the best interest of her health.
Finally, in 2016, a report surfaced on the Indianapolis Star accusing Nassar of raping one of his patients. Sadly, like many others who experience abuse at the hands of someone they trust, Hutchins denied Nassar had done any wrong.
"My parents approached me about it, and I still believed that it was medical treatment," Hutchins explained. "I still tried to justify it because he was such a close friend, I didn't want it to be true. I didn't want to believe what the horrible truth was."
However, after several other former patients spoke out about the abuse they received, Hutchins finally began to realize that horrible truth she once could not even comprehend.
"After hearing more and more girls talk about their experience, I was like, 'Okay, that happened to me too. Yes he did this,'" Hutchins said. "And then it finally hit me, 'Okay. Wow. He sexually abused me. He took advantage of me."
While the realization of the abuse brought shame and emotional pain to Isabell, her parents also felt a sense of guilt. The parents of the more than 150 patients of Nassar's were forced to come to grips with the fact that the man to whom they trusted their daughters was merely a wolf in sheep's clothing. Isabell says her parents are still haunted by that fact.
"I think they are struggling with it. They don't try and tell me because they obviously don't want to put that on me, but I think that they are struggling," Hutchins said. "They are feeling guilt about it. They should've known. I should've known or I should've done something about it. But there's really no way they could've known."
Isabell made it clear the abuse she and her fellow Sister Survivors faced was not the fault of their parents. Instead it was the fault of a devious man who became skilled not at being a doctor, but at hiding his abuse.
"I was by myself for a lot of the treatments. And even multiple girls have said that he would position himself in a way that they couldn't see," Hutchins said. "So I don't think they should put the blame on themselves. I don't think anyone should. And like the judge said, all the blame goes to Larry."
Who's to Blame?
While no blame should ever be taken from Larry Nassar, blame for this horrible tragedy needs to be placed on those that enabled Nassar to abuse more than 150 girls over more than two decades.
The Nassar story is a dark cloud over USA Gymnastics, the US Olympic Committee. Michigan State University, and her coach John Geddert, all of whom, Hutchins says, share blame for what happened to her and her Sister Survivors.
"Multiple girls went up to people at USAG and tried to speak out. And they shut them down. MSU: A lot of the girls back 20 years ago tried to speak up towards MSU and they said, 'He's Larry. He's the doctor.' And told them to kind of be quiet about it too. And also the USOC," Hutchins explained. "I think a lot of people had a hand in this: Trying to sweep it under the rug, trying to keep quiet about it. And I don't think there is any way they could have not known."
Hutchins says it is shameful the lengths it took to bring Nassar to justice.
"It took 150 plus girls for them to even start thinking about changing anything," Hutchins said.
Amazingly, Hutchins says Michigan State continues to bill her and her family for the many times she was abused rather than treated by Nassar.
"To me personally, it's like why I am paying for sexual abuse," Hutchins said. "I think it's kind of absurd how many thousands and thousands of dollars I didn't personally pay, but my parents and grandparents paid for me to be in a gym where I was physically abused, sexually abused and emotionally abused."
Looking Toward the Future
With Larry Nassar now headed to prison, Isabell now faces life after a week that caused her emotional distress and unimaginable pain.
"I've already seen almost a change in myself. I don't know if it is me getting back to who I was or if it's me growing as a person," Hutchins said. "But I couldn't have been here today, I couldn't have seen myself standing in court that day. I'm just not that person, I'm not that confident. Yet here I am. And I'm having these conversations with people, and I'm speaking out. And I think a lot has changed already and I think it's going to continue to change for the good."
She says she feels more empowered now, since her testimony and Nassar's sentence, than she ever has before.
"He may have hurt me and he may have though he had the power of me, but I think there's definitely been power switch," Hutchins said. "I think I hold all that power now.
It is no irony Hutchins wants to take on the career of the man she once trusted and called a friend. There was a time Hutchins looked up to Nassar and wanted to emulate him so far as to inspire her to become a doctor for athletes.
And despite that man actually being a deceitful rapist, Hutchins says she is even more motivated to continue that path to show athletes there are doctors who truly care about them.
"My first though was disgust and I didn't want to be anything like him, but it definitely has turned around to be a sort of motivation for me," Hutchins said. "Trying to fix what he has done, trying to bring good back into the medical community and trying to establish trust with athletes again because I'm sure athletes all of the world question whether or not they can trust their doctors. And I want to reestablish a real trust with them."
With that motivation, Hutchins says she wants to be a sports metaphysical or an orthopaedic surgeon.
As for Nassar himself, many of the women who suffered his abuse rightfully told him to, as one of the Sister Survivors said, "rot in hell." But in a remarkable show of humility and strength, Hutchins says there may come a day when she will forgive the man who took advantage of her for his own selfish purpose.
"I think after getting what I needed to say out and him getting his sentencing, I think I'm on the path towards forgiving him," Hutchins said. "I think it's going to be a very long path, but I think eventually it would be in my best interest to forgive him."
Isabell Hutchins is one of more than 150 Sister Survivors, including gold medalists and women with golden dreams in and out of the gym, who suffered abuse at the hands of an evil man and continue to survive.
They do so by exemplifying the same qualities that make a champion: Strength, courage, determination and the will to continue fighting despite the great adversities they may face.
They are not victims of abuse. They are heroic survivors.