Although five-time Olympic medal winner Nastia Liukin may be retired from gymnastics, the athlete is still passionate about the sport–especially when it comes to fostering a safe environment for female athletes.
In fact, even before the U.S. Gymnastics organization was shaken to its core following the trial and conviction of Larry Nassar, the national team doctor of three decades, Liukin and her fiancé, Matt Lombardi, were hard at work coming up with the Grander app, which aims to connect athletes with mentors in their sport, creating a safe, secure, and open environment based on communication and support.
“It’s really interesting because we actually started it [the app] and came up with the concept before this big movement started but now, just hearing more stories and learning more about it, it’s more important now than ever because we’re creating this place for young girls to feel safe and be able to speak out,” she said when we spoke to her at the celebration of the collaboration between Free Country and The Fresh Air Fund at The Rink at Bryant Park on Dec. 19 in NYC.
In the wake of the scandal, Liukin is the first to acknowledge that the organization still has a long way to go. “What’s going on in our sport is awful. Change is needed. I’m hoping that this is now the beginning of change and hopefully a brighter future.”
Liukin’s commitment to change is a vision she shares with her father, Valeri Liukin, the current coach of the US National Team. “He went through it as an athlete and then as a coach, but also as a father,” she said. “I think for him, being able to experience it in so many different ways, he’s now protecting these young athletes, not only as a coach but also as a father, being there as a previous father of an Olympic champion. I know he’s motivated to continue making a change and making it open.”
Over 140 women, including elite athletes from the 2012 Olympic gymnastics team, came forward and accused former team doctor, Larry Nassar, of sexual misconduct. In November the disgraced doctor pleaded guilty to seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and admitted to using his position within the organization to sexually abuse underage girls.
“It’s more important than ever to create a safe environment. It’s more important than the gymnastics, than the medals that are won,” Liukin said. “There’s obviously a long way to go but it’s hopefully the start of change.”