When I was 16, one of my coaches tried to force himself on me. I don't call it rape, because he never physically touched me but it was absolute torture. I was a two sport Varsity athlete during the winter, and would be at one practice from 2:30 till 5, throw food down that I had brought, and go to the next until 9 at night, 5 days a week unless I had a competition. I loved it.
As part of that training, I'd work with this coach in the weight room or on technique one on one. Young and naive, that was my first mistake, but my passion for sport and driving myself was my only thought. After a few weeks, I grew uncomfortable with comments like "I can see your muscles move" looking at my chest or ass and watching, always watching with a hungry and possessive look. I stopped going.
It got worse. He was a teacher and I had one point in the day that I had to walk past his class, where he'd wait to leer. Changed my route, even though it made me late, made sure I always had someone with me. He started stopping by my classes while they were in session. I could see that teachers were puzzled by his excuses for interrupting. He would come and watch me when I was training in my other sport. I was trapped.
A small group of us earned the right to States and of all things, he was my only ride. It came down to being able to compete for something I had given sweat, blood, and tears for or give up. I went. Three other teammates rode with me, and they were very protective. Made the 3 hour trip, placed in the top 10, and began the trip home. We stopped to eat with another group, and he exploded when we didn't all sit together, really a result of me ending up at another table. He was raging, and the other coach was bewildered as he bellowed and slammed things for what seemed an eternity. I have no idea how we made it home, but it was in absolute silence. Strangely, that day my fear began to turn into defiance, but I still felt imprisoned.
One season changed to the next and I avoided him, walking different ways from the locker room to practices. He literally stalked me, coming to whatever area I was practicing and harassing me. I just kept working to get better. Worked with another coach. Trained before practice started, left with everyone else. Once, I changed direction when I saw him, hurrying away with another teammate, and he saw. That led to him bursting into the girls' team meeting, throwing chairs and screaming, breaking things.
Why did I not tell my parents? We had a loving relationship, but communication wasn't our strong point. Fortunately, someone else did speak up. He was out of girls' sports for good, and though he was allowed to remain as a teacher, stayed far from me. He dodged me, hurried away if our paths crossed, avoided any area I was training. There must have been some threat of legal consequences or he had some moral revelation, because I saw him 10 years later while I was waiting in line with my two children, and he turned absolutely white and froze. I pretended not to see him, because even then he immediately elicited a visceral feeling of nausea and disgust. Some may think I should've confronted him, pushed the school to do more, but it was enough to escape.
Growing up without much and the daughter of the first mixed couple in our neighborhood, in fact the whole school, you learn quickly what you can count on, and help from authority wasn't one of them. Ever. In fact, they were the enemy, because attempting to get help usually resulted in shame, inaction, or repercussion. Famous speaker Les Brown talks about seeing yourself beyond parameters the dominant culture has set for you, and the relentless work that we each must do. The most important thing is to first BELIEVE. To know that you can break free, that you are more than your circumstances.
There are many ways to be trapped: addiction, low self esteem, mental health challenges, illness, poverty, abuse, the corporate world, our past, bad relationships, giving up. With COVID-19 and the current quarantine, we grieve for the loss of life as we knew it, and it's normal to feel imprisoned or afraid. The same things apply as when our 7 year old daughter was diagnosed with cancer, or when something has happened to turn my world upside down: control what you can control, seek to lift others up, share what you can, live with gratitude, relentlessly seek growth, serve others, put the work in, resolutely adapt. Know that doesn't mean it will be easy. Know it will be a battle. But always believe.