Abby Spadafora learned food smuggling early in her gymnastics career.
If her well-meaning parents packed her granola bars for a trip, Spadafora would bury them deep in her bag like contraband, since they weren’t allowed to follow a strict diet, she said, that her coaches Dave and Elizabeth Brubacher have been following her since the age of 13.
“I wasn’t a big eater,” she said, “but yeah, I quickly learned how to hide food.” “I was always starving.”
Spadafora and another gymnast known as Athlete B, two of 11 former gymnasts known as Bluewater Survivors, have publicly criticized their handling of their investigation of abuse by Gymnastics Canada, saying on Tuesday they had been victimized again for their enforced silence.
“We were constantly told, ‘Don’t say or post anything publicly about what you’re going through. Don’t say or post anything about the abuse you’ve been subjected to, because if you do, it will be used against you at the hearing,’ the two said in their statement Tuesday morning.
“Therefore, fearing to spoil the case, we have remained silent,” the statement said. “We went on with our daily lives while silently struggling to undergo a process from hell! One would think that the Canadian gymnastics process would protect the victims. However, this process did just the opposite by constantly re-harming us all.”
The 11 gymnasts – Spadafora, Melanie (Roca) Hunt, April Nichols, Healy Picasso, Alicia Topol, and six others referred to as “athletes A, B, H, I, J, K” – make up the core group of athletes who have pushed for the procedure. Third Party Investigation and Certification of the 2020 Disciplinary Action with Gymnastics Canada.
Watch | Canadian gymnasts demand investigation into abusive practices and toxic culture:
Spadafora, 38, said she was psychologically, verbally and physically abused by both Brubakers since the age of seven, and was assaulted by Dave Brubaker.
“I personally didn’t realize I had been sexually abused until a police officer told me [in 2017] She said.
Spadafora said she was already training 25 hours a week at the age of seven. She said injuries are only considered serious if you “end up in a cast.” Twice a day, gymnasts would line up to be weighed. Spadafora had been secretly hanging her heels from the back of the scales. The results will be published in the trainers’ office. Any weight gain means running around in trash bags to burn them.
The typical dinner on her strict diet was fruit, vegetables, and skinless/boneless chicken.
“I don’t even think I weigh 80 pounds [at 13]. “We were very, very young,” she said of her teammates.
Spadafora said the coaches created an atmosphere of fear that prevented parents from watching the training. Kids were told what happens in the gym stays in the gym. Any complaints from parents were met with the harshest treatment in practice.
“I had two wonderful parents,” she said. “[But] My mom is still learning the things that happened to me and I hid it from her.”
Spadafora said she still bears the emotional scars from her 12 years with the Brubakers. She had an eating disorder while competing for the University of Arizona. She notes that her coaches knew nothing of the abuse she had been subjected to. She struggles with body image issues.
“I never wear a bikini, I don’t feel comfortable, and I always feel like I have to cover certain parts of my body,” she said.
She said the word “fat” is never used in her home, she doesn’t talk about diets in front of her six-year-old son or daughter, who is 12, and she still struggles to eat in public.
“It’s a constant, never-ending battle,” she said.
Not required to join a class action
Last week, former gymnast Amelia Klein filed a proposed lawsuit against Canadian gymnastics and six regional gymnastics federations – British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec and Ontario. The proposed class of plaintiffs alleges physical, sexual, and/or psychological abuse while participating in programs offered by those organizations dating back to 1978.
Spadafora told The Canadian Press it has not yet decided whether to join the class action.
She and Athlete B were among 450 signatories to a letter to Sport Canada calling for an independent third-party investigation into what they described as the “toxic culture” in Canadian gymnastics of abuse and silence.
Spadafora said Brubaker’s investigation included numerous interviews, and a grueling three-hour interrogation during the hearing.
“It wasn’t about telling our story, we had to constantly prove it,” she said. “They tried to rip the truth. I was going to go into a panic attack because of the hearing, the cross-examination of witnesses and a false description. It was awful.”
“GymCan shut it down,” she added, regarding the findings of a third-party investigation by Lauren Bernardi. “To this day, 11 survivors have not been allowed to see it, even though it contains our personal stories of abuse.”
According to Bluewater Survivors, so named because Brubaker was a coach and director of Bluewater Gymnastics in Sarnia, Ontario, a disciplinary ruling issued in March 2021 found 54 charges of misconduct, including emotional, psychological, physical and sexual abuse, as coaches. Over several years, until the year of Dave Brubacher’s arrest in 2017.
Brubaker, who coached Canada at the 2016 Rio Olympics, was banned for life by Gymnastics Canada last year after an internal investigation into multiple complaints. He was arrested in 2017 after he was arrested and charged with multiple sexual assault charges. He was found not guilty, but GymCan launched its own investigation after numerous complaints.
Former coaches deny all allegations
His wife Elizabeth was laid off in 2019 until 2024.
The Brokers denied all the allegations, and attempts to reach them failed. The Canadian Gymnastics Association did not respond to a request for comment. The Brubakers pulled an appeal to Gymnastics Canada last month.
Spadafora, whose daughter dances and son plays soccer, said she still “thinks sports are great.”
She is grateful for the opportunity to finally talk about her experience, especially since during the investigation the gymnasts were unable to speak or support each other.
“So we felt very lonely,” Spadafora said. “I want people to know that you are not alone, that there are people who support you, and that there are people who believe in you.
“Gymnastics is a beautiful sport, but it needs to change. No child in gymnastics should be subjected to any form of abuse, those of us who are retired and who find the strength to speak out and now understand that this is not true, that this is abuse, if our voices and our stories will help In educating parents and helping children protect, it is worth it.
“I’m definitely in a better place to talk and I know I don’t have to be ashamed of the things that happened to me. I was a kid when I started these things.”