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College gymnast claims ‘verbal and emotional abuse’ in announcing surprise retirement

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(NEW YORK) — A collegiate gymnast has announced her retirement from the sport, alleging she was a victim of “verbal and emotional abuse.”

Kara Eaker, a junior at the University of Utah, shared on Instagram that she is withdrawing from the school, as well as retiring from the team and gymnastics overall.

“For two years, while training with the Utah Gymnastics team, I was a victim of verbal and emotional abuse,” Eaker wrote in her lengthy Instagram post. “As a result, my physical, mental and emotional health has rapidly declined. I had been seeing a university athletics psychologist for a year and a half and I’m now seeing a new provider twice a week because of suicidal and self-harm ideation and being unable to care for myself properly. I have recently been diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression, anxiety induced insomnia, and I suffer from panic attacks, PTSD and night terrors.”

Eaker, 20, went onto describe the alleged environment on the university’s gymnastics team as “unhealthy, unsafe and toxic,” and said she had “reached a turning point and I’m speaking out for all of the women who can’t because they are mentally debilitated and paralyzed by fear.”

“I, too, find myself frozen in moments when fear takes over. But i can no longer stand by while perpetrators are still allowed in sports and are causing young girls and women to suffer,” Eaker wrote.

Eaker ended her post by writing: “I am here to support you because I care about everyone. You are not alone.”

A native of Missouri, Eaker was a member of Utah’s third-place NCAA championship gymnastics teams in 2022 and 2023 and was a two-time All-American on the beam during her time at the University of Utah, according to her biography on the gymnastic team’s website.

Outside of her collegiate gymnastics career, Eaker was also an alternate for the 2020 U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team and a two-time world champion with Team USA, among other highlights, according to her bio.

The University of Utah did not immediately reply to ABC News’ request for comment on Eaker’s claims.

Eaker did not name a coach in her Instagram post, but wrote that the alleged abuse “often happened in individual coach-athlete meetings.”

“I would be isolated in an office with an overpowering coach, door closed, sitting quietly, hardly able to speak because of condescending, sarcastic and manipulative tactics,” she wrote.

Tom Farden has been the sole head coach of Utah’s women’s gymnastics program since 2020.

Earlier this year, the university hired a legal firm to investigate reports that Farden verbally and emotionally abused athletes. The university last month released a report of the investigation’s findings, stating in part that “while Farden’s actions caused some student-athletes to feel ‘increased fear of failure’ and pressure to retain athletics scholarships, he did not engage in ‘any severe, pervasive or egregious’ acts of emotional, verbal or physical abuse or harassment as defined by the SafeSport Code and NCAA regulations.”

The report also found that Farden “more likely than not threw a stopwatch and a cellular telephone in frustration in the presence of student-athletes. These individual acts were not repeated or severe and therefore did not violate SafeSport Code for Physical Acts of Emotional Misconduct which requires repeated or severe physically aggressive behaviors.”

At the time of the report’s release, Farden responded by saying, in part, “I care deeply about the health, safety and well-being of every student whom I am entrusted to coach, to mentor and to support as head coach of the Utah gymnastics program. With that privilege comes great responsibility, and I take very seriously the concerns that were expressed about my behavior and my coaching methods. It has been painful to learn of the negative impacts that my words and actions have created.”

He added, “I take to heart every lesson I have learned through this process, and I am fully committed to improving our student–athlete experience.”

Eaker referred to the investigation in her Instagram post, saying it is “incomplete at best, and I disagree with their findings. I don’t believe it has credibility, because the report omits crucial evidence and information and the few descriptions used are inaccurate.”

As of Monday morning, Farden had not publicly responded to Eaker’s Instagram post.

Christine Brennan, a sports columnist for USA Today, described Eaker’s decision to go public with her allegations a “watershed moment” in the sport of gymnastics, which has faced other recent abuse allegations .

“If we’ve learned anything, it’s that we should be listening to every single athlete, when someone like Kara speaks, as she has, and has the courage and the confidence and the fortitude to come forward in this manner and bare her soul and say that she’s retiring from the sport she loves because it is so broken,” Brennan told ABC News. “This is truly another watershed moment in gymnastics, and it seems to me that University of Utah, with that investigation, has not met the moment.”

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or worried about a friend or loved one, call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 for free, confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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