Sister survivors: 12 women, part of the army that brought down Larry Nassar, share their story

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"I know that talking about it is helping other people and creating change," says Olympic gold medalist Jordyn Wieber. "If it's allowing young girls to be safer in our sport, then that makes it all worth it."

This story appears in the Heroes Issue of ESPN The Magazine. Subscribe today!

These 12 brave women are among the hundreds of sister survivors who came forward about the abuse they endured from Larry Nassar and brought the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State physician to justice. They found solace and strength in one another as they transformed from athletes into activists -- and their collective courage empowered countless other survivors to come forward.

This is their story, in their words.

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Rachael Denhollander

Age: 32 | Former youth gymnast; now an attorney | First woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse, in 2016

"The reality is that most sexual assault survivors don't have an army of hundreds of women behind them. Most of them are fighting it alone. They need better access to the justice system. They need better advocates in the court system, both civilly and criminally. The #MeToo movement is a start, and I'm very grateful for it, because it continued a societal conversation. But sexual assault victims won't see justice through a tweet. Most of them have to put in an incredible amount of sacrifice and anguish and go through the hell of the court process, if they even get that far."

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Mattie Larson

Age: 26 | Former national gymnastics team member and world champion silver medalist; nanny | Came forward in 2016 after reading Denhollander's account in The Indianapolis Star

"My coach at UCLA used to say, 'Use your voice, Mattie.' Now I finally understand what she meant. I have to speak up in order to make a change. I can't just wait for things to happen. A single voice is powerful, and when you bring in a collective group of powerful voices, you can make some huge, systematic changes."

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Sterling Riethman

Age: 25 | Former diver at Denison University; marketing specialist for a brewery in Michigan | Came forward in 2016 after reading Denhollander's account

"For so long, I hadn't recognized the person in the mirror, but I walked into that courtroom and saw myself in these women. There was something so powerful, and so empowering, about that. I didn't know any of the them besides Rachael, but I instantly saw pieces of myself in every other woman who was in that room -- the shaking hands, the shaking knees, the fear and uncertainty in their eyes.

"I talk to them every day now. Throughout the past two years, we've traveled a lot together, we've gone through a lot of ridiculous things together. It's so refreshing to have people by your side who you don't have to explain anything to. I instantly get what they're going through, and they understand everything I'm feeling. I don't have to answer questions and explain or justify it to them. We can just be."

"We knew early on that there were going to be a lot of women, but what surprised me the most was how many women decided not to be anonymous anymore. It wasn't the volume of women coming forward, it was the empowerment of these women saying, 'I'm going to [go] public.' I didn't anticipate that. [Prosecutor Angela Povilaitis] would stand up and say, 'We have the next survivor; she has to chosen to remain anonymous.' And, time after time, the women would stand up from the gallery and say, 'No, I've decided to go public.' That was so powerful. Those moments just gave me chills, because I knew each of them was finding strength in the room around her and in the moment.

"Shortly after I came forward, a fellow survivor who hadn't gone public sent me a message on Instagram. She said, 'I wanted you to know that today has been the hardest day of my life, but watching your interview got me out of bed this morning.'

"I instantly felt like I had done the right thing. Regardless of whether hundreds of girls came forward, [my testimony] had helped one person get out of bed that morning. I know what it feels like to not want to move forward, to not want to get out of bed and to just lay there and wallow in it. The fact that she was like, 'I'm going to start taking my life back,' was incredible. It felt so huge."

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Maggie Nichols

Age: 20 | Former national gymnastics team member and 2015 world champion; reigning NCAA individual national champion in the all-around, Oklahoma | First woman to report Nassar to USA Gymnastics, in 2015

"I knew reporting [the abuse] was the right thing to do. I didn't want it to happen to anyone else. I hope that people gain courage from our story and realize that they can do anything they put their minds to, no matter what they're going through. It was a relief [to go public]. So much love and support came toward me."

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Jordyn Wieber

Age: 23 | 2012 Olympic gold medalist; assistant gymnastics coach at UCLA | 
Testified against Nassar and before a U.S. Senate panel

"It's cool to have this new team, this army of survivors. We come from different backgrounds. We're not just gymnasts; there are softball players, swimmers and volleyball players too. We're all doing amazing things with our lives now. Even though it's because of something negative, we're coming together and using our voices to make something positive happen and to change the trajectory of sexual abuse in sports.

"I just hope that someday I can confidently look at a mom and say, 'Yes, you should put your daughter in gymnastics.' Right now, I don't feel that way. Gymnastics is still one of my greatest passions. I love this sport so much, enough to continue coaching it. I think, both as a survivor and an Olympian, I've realized how important my voice is. Using my voice empowers other people to use their voice as well -- people who don't think they have a voice.

"It's not fun to talk about this very private thing about my life and to relive the experience. But I know that talking about it is helping other people and creating change. If it's allowing young girls to be safer in our sport, then that makes it all worth it."

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Larissa Boyce

Age: 38 | Former member of Michigan State's junior gymnastics program; medical imaging specialist | First reported Nassar to MSU in 1997

"Our culture has such a stigma about sexual abuse. I thought, 'If I don't [speak up], then who is going to?' So I had to make that decision to be a voice when so many people who have experienced abuse are silenced. Why not be the person who stands up and tries to help change our culture, our society? It has to start with somebody. We will not rest until we help make this world a safer place for our children."

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Kaylee Lorincz

Age: 19 | Member of Acrobatics and Tumbling team at Adrian College | Came forward in 2016 after reading Denhollander's account

"I initially wanted to be anonymous, but when I read about the case, it felt like reading about someone else. And I realized: This didn't happen to Jane Doe. This happened to Kaylee Lorincz. I wanted people to see I'm a real person. Being a gymnast has helped me because the sport requires so much mental toughness. If I didn't have that, I don't know if I would've been able to get through the past two years.

"These girls, the sister survivors, know exactly what you're dealing with, what you've been through. We all say that it's a group you never want to be a part of, but we're so happy to have each other. We've become extremely close. These girls are really sisters. I will keep in contact with them forever.

"One time, a couple of months ago, I was having a bad day and called Larissa Boyce. I didn't say a word, but she knew exactly how I was feeling. I didn't have to explain myself. I didn't have to say why I was crying. She just knew."

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Jeanette Antolin

Age: 36 | Former national gymnastics team member; personal stylist | Filed civil lawsuit in 2017 alleging abuse by Nassar

"I'm a mom. When I look at my 3-year-old and see how innocent he is, all I want to do is protect him. To know that there were adults who didn't want to protect me when they could have breaks my heart. Gymnastics is such a beautiful sport, and sports in general are so amazing for kids. They deserve to be able to play sports and be safe. So I'm standing up for the kids who don't have a voice or feel like they don't have one. I'm standing up for the little girl inside me who didn't feel like she had a voice."

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Tiffany Thomas Lopez

Age: 37 | Former Michigan State softball player; stay-at-home mom | Filed a lawsuit against Nassar and Michigan State in 2016

"It didn't take me very long to consider coming forward and telling my story. I felt I had to get a sense of healing. Life feels so much lighter now. I'm like that teenager who signed her letter of intent again. Not very many people get a second chance at life. I feel like this is my moment. I'm blessed. I don't take any moment for granted.

"These wonderful, amazing, strong, courageous sister survivors -- we have this connection and this understanding. We hold each other up. It's a beautiful thing. I knew [by coming forward] that I wasn't only carrying myself. I was going to be carrying a lot of other women and young girls with me."

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Lindsey Lemke

Age: 22 | Former tri-captain of Michigan State's gymnastics team; MSU student | Told former MSU coach Kathie Klages about abuse in 2016

"It is far from over. So many people need to be held accountable for letting [Nassar] abuse us. People think, 'Well, he's in jail now. It's over.' No, it's not. Because most people will say that dealing with the abuse was not the hardest part. It's trying to deal with these institutions that feel like they're off the hook.

"It's not fair. We didn't get the easy way out. I know that there are so many more people out there who are struggling with this, and there's a lot more that needs to be done. We will continue to fight until everybody who needs to be held accountable is."

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Jamie Dantzscher

Age: 36 | 2000 Olympic bronze medalist; real estate agent | One of the first women to file a lawsuit against Nassar and USA Gymnastics, in 2016

"It was empowering, seeing how more and more women kept coming forward each day because they heard the statements from other women. I went from feeling like I was a victim to a survivor to a warrior, in an army of warriors.

"The people who protected Larry Nassar and who created that culture are just as guilty. We are going to fight until they investigate and hold the people who are responsible for this going on so long accountable. I won't stop until the culture of gymnastics is changed. That's what I'm fighting for now.

"These people in gymnastics controlled my childhood and affected much of my adulthood, but now I feel like I can finally take ownership of my life and move forward and heal. I'm so grateful to have this army of sister survivors by my side, because I didn't get that as a child. For so long, I felt so alone and blamed myself for what happened to me as a child in gymnastics. Now I know I'm not alone -- not even close. And it's pretty amazing."

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Amanda Thomashow

Age: 29 | Former cheerleader; campus sexual assault response and prevention coordinator at Michigan Public Health Institute | First to report an official Title IX complaint against Nassar, in 2014

"I left [Nassar's] office a completely different person than when I came in. It sounds depressing, but I -- my old self, anyway­ -- kind of died in that room. What came out was somebody who was stronger and ready to fight. And that's what I've been doing. My job allows me to do that every day. On my first day, my boss said: 'Amanda, are you ready to change the f---ing world?'"

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