The ability to overcome adversity is a key attribute any athlete must possess to reach their highest potential. This could not be truer for speedskater Bridie Farrell, a 31-year-old short track racer who came forward in March of this year with sexual abuse allegations against her former coach and Olympic silver medalist Andy Gabel. Immediately following the long-hidden admission, Farrell announced that she would once again make a run for the U.S. Olympic Team, an achievement that has eluded her in three previous attempts.
Farrell was a promising junior speedskater when Gabel repeatedly and over several months in 1997 and 1998 sexually abused her while both were training in New York and Michigan. When the alleged abuse began, she was 15 and Gabel was 33.
"The first five to seven years after it happened, I was scared," Farrell told Wisconsin public radio station WUWM in an interview shortly after her allegations became public. "I was petrified, because I was young and in speedskating, and I was knocking on the door to the junior national team, then the senior national team, and I didn't want to do anything to jeopardize that.
"Then," she added, "there was a period of my life when I didn't say anything because I realized I was hurt, and I was broken. And it took a long time and a lot of work and some pretty dark times to come to grips with it and put myself together."
While another athlete has come forward with an almost identical story and Gable himself has admitted wrongdoings, the statute of limitations for a lawsuit has expired and he has never been pursued for legal action. He remains in the National Speedskating Hall of Fame and has not been banned from the sport.
Farrel has been publically vocal with her thanks to the Women’s Sports Foundation and our Senior Director of Advocacy, Nancy Hogshead-Makar, for our guidance and coaching in the extremely difficult coming out process. We are often the first responders to cases like these and play the role of shepherd as athletes navigate the complicated systems of National Governing Bodies and the United States Olympic Committee.
The Olympic Trials on December 27 are Farrell's final hope for a comeback. She is a long shot to make the team. But Farrell's journey isn't about winning gold – it’s about proving what’s right. Farrell told Marie Claire Magazine that she wants Gabel banned from the sport and his name removed from the National Speedskating Hall of Fame.
"Andy has done a lot for the sport, and he did help my skating, but there are some nonnegotiables in this world," says Farrell, who hopes that all the publicity she generates may help to right some of the wrongs and perhaps even deter another coach or competitor from taking advantage of a young athlete. "When people don't come forward, it helps these guys to get away with it. It took a lot for me to speak out, but what did I have to lose?"
The article in December’s Marie Claire magazine further investigates Farrell’s case and many others that have arisen in recent years. You can read it in full here.
It’s simple: we can’t stand to not fix this. With your help we can work more closely with our national sport governing bodies and governmental agencies to create policies, practices and laws that protect girls and women from traumatizing sexual abuse. Learn more about supporting our work here.