Trigger Warning: sexual assault, rape, blood, depression, disordered eating
I was completely frozen as his fingers brushed against my knee, up to my thigh, under my shorts. I felt a chill down my spine as his hand lingered there. Part of me was holding in tears, but the other part of me was confused.
“Doesn’t it feel good?” he asked with a smirk on his face.
I was 17 years old when I was sexually assaulted by my high school track and field coach. Two years prior when I was 15, I was outed to my parents over the phone by the same school. I came home after that phone call to arguing, door-slamming, and the most painful looks of disappointment. I wasn’t allowed to hang out with friends or stay after school, and my mother adorned my night table with holy water and other Catholic items that I shoved under my bed.
This was my first year at a new school and I was already not allowed to leave the house or even try to make friends. All because I was caught holding hands with a girl.
Lunch became daunting because I had nobody to sit with, so I quickly became familiar with the various bathroom stalls on campus and picked a favorite to eat at every day. I followed this lunch routine for the rest of that year, all through junior year, and then by senior year I stopped eating altogether. Whether I was eating, not eating, or just simply existing; I felt ashamed.
In fact, I was overcome by shame at every waking moment.
My history teacher during my junior year happened to be the head track and field coach, and after a year of pleading for me to join, I caved and signed up for the first day of cross country. I quickly fell in love with the sport and started eating again in order to fuel and run my best. I still can’t put into words how running makes me feel, but I loved it then and I love it just as much to this day, if not more.
Not long after starting, I got a hip injury and couldn’t run without a sharp pain that would run down my leg. My head coach suggested time off, but our assistant coach insisted on providing treatment using his physiotherapy license. He stretched me out on the field and massaged my upper thigh, throwing out theories as to what this could be. We quickly struck up a conversation about running and biology; two things I loved talking about. I looked up to his expertise and passion for the sciences, and his accolades as a pre-professional runner.
One day after practice he turned to me and said, “What if I told you that you didn’t have to take time off and could run pain free?”
I laughed at the idea because it seemed silly. He took two small white pills out of his pocket and told me to take them three hours before practice, and I would be able to run through the injury. I asked what it was, and he explained that it was “like Tylenol.”
I trusted him, and I took the pills that day. This became a routine as he started giving them to me daily. I remember one meet when he put four of them in my spike bag and told me to take them, which I did. I ran my slowest 1500m race and couldn’t understand why I felt so nauseated and dizzy. I spent the rest of the meet hunched over the toilet until sunset when the bus was getting ready to leave. This was my first time getting high, and I didn’t even know that until recently looking back.
This was the start of a downward spiral of an opioid addiction I kept hidden from everyone for years, but I didn’t know this at the time.
Something inside me wanted to impress this assistant coach and I became his “project”. He was invested in my running and I appreciated the attention I was getting. I shook my ability to question and he took advantage of that. Months flew by as he started opening up to a young 17-year-old me more and more. I learned of his current drug addiction and ongoing health problems, and he went on about how helping me run well was making him feel good. Little did I know he was sucking me down right with him. He invited me over to his place for dinner and I agreed, my mother did too. She was excited that I was hanging out with a “boy”, despite him being over ten years older than me, and my coach. She had met him before and asked me why I didn’t date him.
“I have a science experiment for us,” he said to me as I scraped off the last bits of rice on my plate.
I was excited and asked him what it was. He walked me over to his freezer and told me not to freak out. I told him how nothing freaked me out and how just that morning I had dissected a fetal pig in my biology class. He opened the freezer door and revealed two large bags of what looked like frozen blood. My stomach dropped but I was adamant about keeping my composure and impressing him with my maturity. What we went on to do, which again, I didn’t realize until recently, was blood doping.
He walked me through every step and I robotically did everything he asked. I reintroduced the blood into his body as he talked me through every step. I don’t remember exactly what happened or how I got through that, but I still wake up in a pool of sweat from nightmares about that night. Every now and then I get flashes of red in my head when I’m doing homework, warming up at practice, or even talking to someone. The scenes from that night resembled that of a murder movie, and they are engrained in my head forever.
After cleaning up, he casually put on a movie and plopped himself next to me as I sat rigidly on the edge of his couch. I was in such shock that I hadn’t yet processed what had just happened. As the movie played and my mind wandered through space, I noticed that his body was uncomfortably close to mine. His hand creeped its way onto my knee and he gently stroked my upper leg.
“I hope this is okay,” he said as I kept my eyes glued to the screen.
I was completely frozen, and didn’t say a word. I thought that if I didn’t say no, that it wouldn’t count as rape. I was not about to get raped.
His hand creeped up my legs and in between them, under my shorts. I felt his dry fingers wander wherever they wanted and everywhere I didn’t want them. I blinked through tears and kept my eyes glued to the screen, yet I still can’t even recall what movie was playing.
The events of this night were repeated over and over again, and I fell into a deep, dark hole I am only now coming out of. Every night I showered and scrubbed my entire body over and over again, going through countless bars of soap and rubbing my skin raw. In my head I kept reminding myself that I never said no, so that it was my own fault. For over five years I conditioned myself to think that I was the one who got myself into this.
I started college in 2018 and walked onto the Division I track and field team I’m still on. I showed up malnourished from disordered eating and addicted to the small white pills this man had been giving me. Nobody knew any of this except for me, and my first year of college was easily the loneliest and most isolating of all.
I hadn’t yet processed all that had happened to me and I was simultaneously juggling school, running, addiction recovery, and eating disorder recovery. I ran through every season still thinking about what had happened to me throughout my last year of high school. I am now a senior and still running on the team, still coming to terms with what happened to me as a young runner. As a child.
I don’t think the night sweats or flashbacks will ever leave me completely alone, but I am slowly learning that the little voice telling me “it was your fault” is and was always wrong. My 16 and 17-year old self was scared, ashamed, and hurt beyond words.
Nothing was her fault. Nothing is my fault.