"The Girls": Former Vallonia resident releases book on Nassar scandal


Abigail Pesta hopes her latest book gives readers a better understanding of how a predatory doctor was able to abuse young gymnasts in hopes it will never happen again.

“I hope people gain a deeper understanding of how this travesty happened and how the fallout has rippled across families,” she said. “I hope they have a clearer picture of how predators ensnare children and parents so we can all help prevent this kind of abuse in the future.”

The former Vallonia resident’s book, “The Girls: An All-American Town, a Predatory Doctor and the Untold Story of the Gymnasts Who Brought Him Down,” hit shelves and became available through online stores Tuesday.

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It offers new insight into the high-profile case along with shocking revelations about how serial child molester Dr. Larry Nassar abused girls while serving as a team doctor at Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics.

The Library Journal wrote that the book “may be the most important sports title of the year” in its review.

The scandal made headlines when The Indianapolis Star broke the story in 2016. Nassar, 55, was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison in July 2017. He also was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison on Jan. 24, 2018, and 40 to 125 years on Feb. 5, 2018.

More than 200 survivors read victim impact statements at his sentencing.

Pesta, 50, is a journalist and author living in New York City. She often writes about women fighting back against crime and injustice. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan, NBC News, The New York Times, New York Magazine and other major publications.

She spoke at the National Organization for Women headquarters in Manhattan the day the book was released.

The book, featured in a recent issue of Time magazine, includes an interview with the first known survivor, Sara Teristi, who spoke out for the first time.

It also shows Nassar’s predation started years earlier than previously reported and how Nassar and Olympic coach John Geddert effectively worked together to keep girls locked in a cycle of manipulation and abuse, according to a news release from Seal Press.

Pesta traveled the country to interview 25 survivors, parents, legal experts and many others. In addition, she reviewed hundreds of pages of court documents.

One of the people she interviewed was Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who sentenced Nassar.

“She made the case personal. She made people pay attention,” Pesta said of Aquilina.

Pesta also interviewed the judge during an Equality League event in New York.

The idea for “The Girls” came a couple of years ago when Pesta interviewed Lindsey Lemke, one of the first survivors to publicly identify herself, about the scandal. Pesta remembers interviewing Lemke and her mother not too long after the story broke and being moved by their story.

“It took guts to speak out, especially at that time when there was a lot of confusion and blame surrounding the scandal,” she said. “Lindsey and her mom said people were blaming them, calling them clueless. People didn’t understand that many kids didn’t know they were being abused.”

Pesta said as the scandal grew and was further reported on, she wanted to help people understand how it happened to help prevent it again. She then wrote a book proposal and began talking to editors.

Interviews for the book began in the spring of 2018. She first interviewed Teristi, who she said gave her a deep insight into how Nassar began abusing girls in the late 1980s at a gym in Michigan.

“She had never shared her story publicly, so it meant a lot to me that she trusted me with it,” Pesta said. “As I continued my reporting, I realized that Sara was most likely Nassar’s very first target.”

Pesta said Nassar was testing boundaries with Teristi then to see what he could get away with. Teristi also offered insight into how Geddert created a mentally and physically abusive training environment that made the girls vulnerable to sexual abuse.

He went on to become an Olympic coach and is under investigation by the Michigan attorney general.

Teristi insisted during her interviews with Pesta that she not show emotion because she didn’t want to get emotional, too. Pesta said that was difficult not to react, but she did her best.

Pesta said many have asked if writing the book was depressing, but she said the experience was the opposite. Much of her work involves tragedy, but she said it helps people deal with their challenges, inspire others and lead to change.

“I found the strength and courage of these women truly inspiring,” she said. “They found a way to survive, adapt and move forward and to help others through sharing their experience. They are the embodiment of power, the triumph of the human spirit.”

Pesta got her start in journalism in Jackson County. Her parents, John and Maureen Pesta, owned The Banner and she remembers the whole family putting work into the newspaper.

“My brother, Jesse, who is now an editor at The New York Times, worked there, too. We all chipped in,” she said. “Jesse and I covered high school sports, took photos, wrote columns such as ‘Cook of the Week.’ We both learned so much about reporting and storytelling from our parents. We were lucky to have such great teachers.”

Pesta will be speaking at the University of Kentucky in association with the Kentucky Book Festival and UK Healthcare on Nov. 15, and at the Kentucky Book Fair on Nov. 16.{div class=”yj6qo ajU”}{div id=”:jn” class=”ajR” data-tooltip=”Show trimmed content”}{img class=”ajT” src=”https://ssl.gstatic.com/ui/v1/icons/mail/images/cleardot.gif” /}Pesta also is the co-author of “How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child,” which she wrote with Sandra Uwiringiyimana.{/div}{/div}

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Former Vallonia resident Abigail Pesta’s book, “The Girls: An All-American Town, a Predatory Doctor, and the Untold Story of the Gymnasts Who Brought Him Down,” is available through Seal Press on its website at sealpress.com/titles/abigail-pesta/the-girls/9781580058810/?fbclid=IwAR30lUnTxXAGDEosBdl7bkAQkKTfYyqfzkbop1lQ58gWMpoRHpSS79fZ954.


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