Maggie’s Story: Gymnast thrives at OU after being “Athlete A” in Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal

A world class gymnast. A daughter. A friend. “Athlete A” in the Larry Nassar scandal.

They are all parts of Maggie Nichols, all ways people know her, all ways she’s defined – for better or worse.

“Sometimes it does get a little bit tiring, just because it is a very sensitive subject,” Nichols said about always being associated with the Nassar scandal.

The former USA Gymnastics team doctor will serve the rest of his life in prison after being convicted of sexual assault and possession of child pornography. Hundreds of athletes have come forward saying Nassar sexually abused them when he was supposed to be medically treating them.

Nichols says USA Gymnastics protected Nassar, and she’s part of a lawsuit against the organization.

“I can’t even think about it,” Nichols said. “It makes my skin boil a little bit. If they would have, you know, handled things right away, so many girls wouldn’t have had to gone through that.”

USA Gymnastics sent FOX23 the following statement for this story:

We are deeply committed to learning from the mistakes of the past and the mishandling of the horrific abuse perpetrated by Larry Nassar. We have implemented stronger policies and preventative measures, launched multiple educational efforts, and made sweeping organizational and personnel changes. Most importantly, we have changed our organization’s priorities to focus on changing the culture within our community so that something like this cannot be allowed to happen again.

Nichols was the first one to report Nassar to USA Gymnastics when she was only 17 years old. She didn’t publicly announce she’s “Athlete A” until two-and-a-half years later in a statement released in January of 2018. Later that same month, Maggie’s mother Gina read the statement at Larry Nassar’s sentencing. Gina had her own words for Nassar too.

“You actually are not a real doctor. You’re not a doctor at all. You’re a serial child molester. A pedophile,” Gina Nichols said to Nassar after reading her daughter’s statement.

“It meant the world that she could do that for me because I do not like to talk about it too much,” Maggie said. “But I mean, it is something that happened and something that I am able to use my voice with and help other people.”

And she has. Maggie knows it from the messages she gets on social media. she knows it from fans at her meets. And she knows it because Larry Nassar is behind bars. Maggie’s parents know it too.

“She saved many, many girls,” Maggie’s father John Nichols said. “She may never meet them. She may never see them, but she saved many, many.”

“She is a hero. She is a hero,” he said.

“I mean just hearing my dad say I’m a hero just means everything,” Maggie said. “I mean, they supported me through everything, and I can’t thank them enough.”

Success as a gymnast has never been a problem for Nichols. But after controversially missing out on the 2016 Olympic team, she called it quits on her elite career and moved on to college gymnastics, moved on to the University of Oklahoma.

“Coming to OU really kind of changed my life. It really did,” Nichols said.

Maggie says she fell in love with gymnastics again at OU. She found her gymnastics family, and she found a lot of success. But there could have been more trophies and more medals, probably should have been.

Maggie’s career ended early. Six days after Senior Night in Norman in mid March, the college gymnastics season was called off -- only nine days before the start of the postseason. Canceled by coronavirus. Maggie’s head coach broke the news in a team meeting.

“I saw like a sheet of white cause I was so shocked,” Nichols said. “And I know we were all like crying because we were really upset because you know we worked so hard.”

The six-time individual national champion was favored to win at least one more championship. The Sooners were favored to win their second straight team title.

“It’s very tough knowing we could have one another Big 12 Championship and we could have won Nationals,” Nichols ssaid. “It’s kind of hard to even think about it. I mean I do sometimes think about the what ifs.”

There are a lot of what ifs in Maggie’s life.

What if she would have gotten to finish her senior season?

What if she would have never met Larry Nassar?

What if people didn’t know her as “Athlete A?” She has an answer for that one.

“I think I always want to have that and that title just because I did come out publicly for a reason,” Nichols said. “If I can use my voice to help other people, I’ll do anything that I can to ensure that not only gymnasts but athletes are safe at all times.”

This is the first time Maggie hasn’t been competing in gymastics since she was three years old. After nearly two decades of a career filled with fantastic ups and truly terrible downs, she’s at peace with it being over.

“You know, I gave it everything I had in gymnastics,” Maggie said. “And so, you know, I just look back and smile.”

Maggie’s days as a competitive gymnast are done. Still a daughter. Still a friend. Always “Athlete A.”