Daily Herald - Suburban Chicago's source for news This copy is for personal, non-commercial use. To order presentation-ready copies for distribution you can: 1) Use the "Reprint" button found on the top and bottom of every article, 2) Visit reprints.theygsgroup.com/dailyherald.asp for samples and additional information or 3) Order a reprint of this article now.
Article updated: 11/21/2012 11:42 PM

Victims in Cardamone case tell court their stories

Six former gymnasts gave victim-impact statements Wednesday as onetime coach Michael Cardamone pleaded guilty to inappropriately touching 14 young students at his family's Aurora gym. Here are their unexpurgated statements in full.

Victim 1

"Before I start to express my feelings on this traumatic experience in my life, I would like to address the court and thank them for this opportunity for the ability to be heard one last time. Some say that time heals all wounds. Though, this one formed by Michael Cardamone will always remain open in some way, shape, or form. The only thing, however, is that this wound could have been prevented. And that prevention sits right in front of me at this very moment.

"Michael, I still wonder, 14 years later, why did you choose to abuse me? I shake within my skin and choke up thinking about this trauma that I have had to suffer through almost my entire life. Because of your actions I have been in and out of hospitals due to the diagnosis of complex migraines. These migraines have been stress-induced and directly correlated to you. The minute that this case gets brought up; whether it be unexpected conversation, retrials, court dates, or trips back to Illinois, I can anticipate a migraine to occur within the next 24 hours. Within the past few years, due to no closure and your lies, I have experienced generalized anxiety disorder on top of the migraines.

"If you would have only owned up to your disgusting actions and what you did to me for years, my physical and emotional state would be in a much better place today, as well as everybody else's in this courtroom. What you did to me, and all the other girls, has not only affected my trust today, but will always affect my trust in the future. This trust will never be able to be restored, due to your disgraceful, manipulative, and repulsive actions. The fact that I will never be able to trust my children with a coach in the future makes me sick. Your abuse of authority and taking the innocence away from me has caused a tremendous trauma to me and everyone involved.

"I traveled hundreds of miles here today to show you the negative impact you have had on my life. But then again, I also came here to express that I have become a stronger woman as a result of the abuse, trials and tribulations that I have had to endure throughout the years. Your actions don't deserve to be forgiven; but I do plan to use these experiences in the future to teach others what to look for in an abuser. You may think you have won this battle, however, now the world finally sees who you truly are."

Victim 2

"For years now, I have wondered what I would say to the person who stole my childhood. While anticipating the opportunity I believed the words would just fall out of my mouth like fluid. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

"I was just a child at the time of your abuse and emotions were black and white. I could be happy, sad, confused or angry. Throughout maturity, I have discovered that there is an emotional gray area. I have come to understand the extremes of disgust, resentment, anxiety, distress, depression and hatred. The fact that I have felt all of these emotions to the extreme will always be unsettling.

"Ever since I was six years old, I was trusted in your care. I have many memories of my time at the gym. You chose to manipulate your athletes using tactics of fear and embarrassment. There was even a time when my foot was broken, but felt I must continue. These are instances that have impacted me deeply and yet these were the easiest days at American Gymnastics. Years after the trial, you still show no remorse for what you did. You have stolen the innocence of many young girls, including myself.

"Throughout the healing process, I have come to realize that there is more than one person to blame. I blame the staff at American for blanketing your disgusting actions and pretending that it was not happening. I have anger toward those who defended you, helped you, and called us liars. Most of all, I blame you. I blame you for what you did to me physically, mentally and emotionally; for what you did to my amazingly strong and supportive family, for the harm that you caused to my peers and lifelong friends, and for what you did to the innocent people who trusted you.

"It has been so difficult to realize that the person who I spent over 30 hours a week with for so many years could not separate right from wrong. As I continue into adulthood I cannot fathom abusing an innocent child the way that you did. Maturing into adulthood comes with the realization that the world does not revolve around you. It comes with an understanding that your actions don't only affect you but also affect the lives of so many others as you can see today.

"I will do everything in my power to protect other innocent girls from individuals like you. I pray that you are never presented with the opportunity to harm a child again and, if you do, I hope that you are held responsible. I would like to thank the court for this opportunity to present this statement. "

Victim 3

"Over 10 years ago, my parents had to sit me down and ask if someone I had on a pedestal, someone I idolized, someone who had become like a father figure and someone my parents had trusted, had ever touched me inappropriately. Imagine yourself at that age. You believe in Santa, in good people, and in justice. Imagine yourself having to tell your parents their worst nightmare. I wish that I could say that this crime didn't affect me in the long term, but over 10 years later, having the opportunity to really reflect, I can say that this has in fact changed my life.

"My first memories I have are in the gym, with these people. I idolized the coaches. We were a family; there is no better way to describe it. Instead of becoming the amazing gymnast I dreamed of, I got this. A traumatic event followed by a decade of terrible pain and horrible struggle. Looking back on it, he had the perfect setup. He worked at a place where his mother was the owner; he was the head coach, the other coaches were manipulated by the entire situation and he had gymnasts at his disposal. Because of him, because of this, I never was able to reach my potential and had to spend over a decade fighting for justice.

"Back then, I never really processed what was happening. I had to sit on the stand, as a 12-year-old girl, and tell a room full of strangers about a traumatic event that forever changed my life. I was six when it happened and he was someone I trusted completely. He was charming. He made me feel safe. He created a special bond. And that is what made him so dangerous. He manipulated me, he manipulated everyone into thinking he was this great, trustworthy guy. But then he made a choice, a selfish choice, to take away someone's innocence. In that moment, he selfishly broke my childhood and made a choice to change my life against my will. My childhood innocence was stolen from me by his selfish actions and I had no say in this. I was put in a position that forced me to grow up. I was forced to be the grown up. None of these things are fair, right or just. Yet here we are, years later and it seems like such a long time because it is. A whole decade has passed since the legal proceedings began and here we are still waiting for justice.

"After the trial and through high school, I struggled in my relationships with everyone. I have always had the feeling that nobody quite understands me. In high school, I used to zone out completely during an exam thinking about all of it. I used to spend an entire drive just thinking about it and not even realize it. I would think about it on a daily basis. Now that I am in college, over 10 years later, I still think about it. I think about it when I notice it impacting my life; usually with relationships and mostly with guys. It took years for me to be able to tell my closest friends what happened to me. It took me over 10 years to be comfortable enough and safe enough to tell a guy that this happened to me and still could not give the details. That was not easy. It is so hard to trust and to let someone in because of this, hoping that they don't then see you differently. This whole ordeal proved that you never really know someone and that nobody can be trusted.

"One of the saddest parts about this is that my childhood memories are intertwined with this event, the practices, the laughs, the pain and the glory are now tangled up with the hearings, the meetings with prosecutors, the counseling appointments and the testifying. It is hard when you are watching old family movies and everyone is laughing and then all of the sudden a tape comes on with his face on it and the entire room gets quiet, everyone looks down and someone darts for the stop button.

"When you're that young, you don't know the world is bad, you still believe in the good in people. I held everyone up on a pedestal. I always pictured coming back and these people being a part of my life forever but obviously I was wrong. I quickly realized that harsh reality of my life. This was not just an incident; this was an ordeal. Even though it happened years ago, I deal with the repercussions on a daily basis.

"I believe that in that moment 13 years ago my life was forever changed. It may have become easier to talk about it with people and to realize how it impacts my life now, but even though it was many years ago, I am still not 'over it.' But let me tell you something, I am stronger today than I was yesterday and that is how it's going to be.

"Thank you for this opportunity to address the court."

Victim 4

"There are no words, combination of words, descriptions, stories or visuals that I could show or tell you so that you could fully understand what it is like to go through what I've been through. For 12 years, over an entire decade, my family and close friends have done everything they could to try and listen and understand how I feel and how angry, hurt, confused and frustrated I have felt since Michael Cardamone committed this crime. The only people who could ever and will ever be able to somewhat related to me and my experience are the other girls that he betrayed and affected. But even they have no idea the intimate details, memories, flashbacks, and feelings that I experience when I think about my old gymnastics coach. I am 23 years old, and have developed into an adult. I have graduated college with a degree, was hired by an incredible company with a well-established professional team. From the outside, I look as if I have had a "normal" life and that my life is going pretty smoothly.

"I can say that I'm proud of myself for making it seem that way. For no one to be able to guess that I was abused for part of my childhood, mentally, physically, and emotionally. On the outside, you can't tell that I might have had a nightmare about the defendant the night before and can't get it out of my mind the next day. I've gotten pretty good at disguising and hiding random breakdowns from people who don't know my story. And I have developed somewhat successful coping strategies to get through some of the darkest and most depressing days caused by the defendant's insensitive, careless, and horrific behavior.

"It's hard to describe to you the amount of stress and impact that this crime has made on my life in a simple impact statement. Every day has been different. Every year has been different. Back when the trial ended and the defendant was sent to jail, I figured that I would finally be able to move on from constant and continual reminders of the detailed abuse that I experienced. I was 15 years old and thought that his being locked up meant a closed chapter of my experience with him. I could not have been more wrong. Do you know how much of an impact he had on me outside of his sick, unfair actions? I used to describe him as a second dad. It made sense, because the majority of my time was spent at school or at the gym, and he was a major male role model from early stages of my developing years. I can tell you that words he said then still echo in my head more than you could imagine still to this day. But if you can imagine how easily the defendant's opinion and words have stuck with me to this day, you may be able to understand the magnitude of impact being abused by him has had.

"It is mind-blowing to me that this case has lasted as long as it has. The moment I found out that he was released from prison and a retrial was going to have to take place, I have not felt content or 100 percent safe on my own since. The defendant and his family live relatively close to where I live. We share similar stores and recreational areas. Let me tell you, pulling into a parking lot and having a tiny thought in the back of my head that he could possibly be in the store I'm about to enter makes me sick to my stomach and horrifies me. Having to monitor neighborhoods that he may live in just so I can avoid the entire area is not something that I should have to go through.

"I stood here eight years ago, trying to express to a courtroom how Michael Cardamone has impacted my life. I tried as best as I could to relay my emotions as proper and censored as possible. I also didn't really know how to tell people how he affected me and what my future would be like having been through what I went through. The only reason I am the slightest bit happy that I can stand here again and voice my feelings is because now, eight years later, I have been through personal and mental struggles as a result of being abused that I could have never predicted back when I was 15 years old. I have only had a taste of what life is like growing up with a past like mine. Dozens of questions I have will never be answered. Years of an innocent childhood will never be given back to me.

"It's hard for me to have hatred for a person or to physically feel my anger inside of me boiling out. Not in this case. I have to live with the memories and the flashbacks of feeling the defendant's actions for the rest of my life. It's not something that goes away with a court ruling or a plea. It's now part of my life. It always will be."

Victim 5

"I don't know how I can sum up the amount of emotional and physical pain I have endured over these past years on a piece of paper. For over a decade, I have been battling with these feelings, feelings of abuse and sadness. You took something from me that I will never get back. You took my innocence. I had no say in that. You owned my childhood; it was never mine. I have spend many years wondering why. Why me? Why my family? Years of tears, fear, and anger. I was looking for an answer nobody could give me. It has been a long journey. Nearly 14 years of emotional turmoil. Being called a liar and having to silence my story outside of the courtroom. Today, however, everyone knows the truth.

"You manipulated me and my family. You lied, you hurt, and you took advantage of my age and vulnerability. I have had countless battles with myself, trying to convince myself that this happened for a reason. Because I was strong enough to survive the trauma. So that I could prevent this from happening to any other little girl. I cannot put reasoning behind the abuse. This will haunt me for the rest of my life. Trusting anyone is nearly impossible.

"But I want you to know I have not been defeated and you did not win. I have learned from my experience. I am who I am because of my experience. And I have taken my passion toward helping survivors to the next level. I have used education as a tool. I spent my undergraduate and graduate career to become a therapist and an advocate for abuse survivors. I can never undo the past. But I will make my past a life lesson for my future. It has been years of attempting to heal, although I have not yet reached it, I will get there. And I will be the amazing person I am for the rest of my life, but you will never change. But now I know, God gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers."

Victim 6

"Every time I think about what happened, I cry. I wish that I could say that it got easier as I got older, but all that happened when I was only 7 years old affects me now more than ever. It truly makes me sick to think that someone I looked up to and trusted could do something like this. I'm supposed to be able to look back on my childhood and remember the good things but all I can remember is Michael Cardamone and everything that he put me and my family through. I feel so taken advantage of and betrayed. I was so young and my innocence was stripped away from me. I couldn't defend myself. The thought of starting a family scares me knowing people like the defendant are in the world.

"It took me a really long time to fully understand everything that I went through, but now that I do, it makes it even harder for me to think about. This is something that is going to affect me forever. I honestly know that I would not be the same person if I hadn't gone through this. I can't trust anyone, not even the people that I'm close to. All because someone I looked up to completely destroyed my ability to trust.

"The worst part is how much this has impacted my family. I can't even begin to imagine how my parents felt when they had to listen to everything their little girl went through. But seeing my mom cry over and over again gave me an idea of how hard it was. I can only hope that I will be able to put all of this behind me and erase all of the painful memories. But I know the chance of me forgetting the terrible things me and my family went through is slim. Thank you for the opportunity to address the court."

Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.