Published September 19, 2012
Rick Curl was one of the nation's most prominent swimming coaches. He put his stamp on an Olympic champion. He built a highly respected club that trained thousands of youngsters.
All along, he was hiding a dark secret.
It caught up with him Wednesday.
Curl was banned for life by USA Swimming over allegations of an intimate relationship with a teenage swimmer in the 1980s, another ugly chapter in a sexual abuse scandal that has rocked one of America's most successful Olympic sports.
"He cast a spell over me," said Kelley Davies Currin, who claims the relationship started when she was 13 and Curl was 33. "I don't know why. Looking back, it doesn't make sense. He controlled everything. He controlled what I ate, when I slept, who I could hang out with."
The founder of a well-known club in the Washington, D.C., area and coach for 1996 and 2000 Olympic gold medalist Tom Dolan, Curl was scheduled to appear Wednesday before the National Board of Review. But he informed the governing body he was waiving his right to challenge the case at a hearing.
Curl voluntarily gave up his membership and was added to USA Swimming's list of banned individuals, which is published on the organization Web site. He became the 67th name on the list.
Currin said she was pleased with the banishment of someone who caused her so much misery, but hopes it is only the beginning of truly meaningful change throughout the sport.
"Obviously I feel really good about it," she told The Associated Press in an interview. "But, in a way, I feel like this should have been done so long ago. This is really just the first step in the process. Unfortunately, I don't think things are going to get better. I think more discoveries are going be made. This is just the first layer of the onion."
Currin received a $150,000 settlement from Curl not to go to law enforcement with details of the illicit four-year relationship, a decision she still regrets.
"We had horrible counsel. We were given terrible legal advice," she said. "I absolutely, positively wish I could have a redo. I think there needs to be a law that for a child who's abused, there's no option. It's a criminal case. It's got to be reported. To settle out of court should never be an option."
After the settlement, Currin said she dealt with depression and suffered from an eating disorder. She has since married and gotten a job as a teacher, allowing some degree of normalcy. Still, she decided to come forward after the sport was rocked by a sexual abuse scandal that first came to light two years ago.
"There were just some really dark days," Currin said. "Abuse is horrific at any age but when it happens in the preteen years, the early teen years, those are the hardest years anyway for an adolescent. ... It was just so confusing for me. I'll live with the scars of that forever."
Dozens of coaches have been involved in improper relationships with underage swimmers, prompting USA Swimming to launch a new safe sport program that includes mandatory training and enhanced criminal background checks for all non-athlete members. Critics say the sport still promotes a culture of secrecy and has demanded that the top leadership be replaced, including executive director Chuck Wielgus.
Curl's attorney, Thomas Kelly, did not immediately respond to voice mails and an email seeking comment.
The coach stepped down as CEO of Curl-Burke Swim Club in July and is no longer associated with the team. The club issued a statement Tuesday saying it has changed its name to Nation's Capital Swim Club, with 15 sites around the Washington area serving more than 2,000 athletes.
The club's most notable swimmer is 15-year-old Katie Ledecky, who won a gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle at the London Olympics.
"The last couple of months have been a challenging time for our club, coaches, swimmers and facility partners," said Tom Ugast, the new CEO. "Our new name and ownership build on the many changes we've already made that reflect our uncompromising commitment to the safety of our swimmers, while preserving the talents and strengths that have made our club one of the country's most successful for years."
Currin was notified of the decision to ban her former coach in a letter from Susan Woessner, director of safe sport for USA Swimming.
"I want to thank you for your courage in coming forward and speaking out," Woessner wrote. "Your willingness to share your story is now holding Rick accountable after all these years. Thank you, Kelley. I have endless gratitude."
USA Swimming said it would have no additional comment.
Currin's attorney, Robert Allard, said she is working with investigators to pursue criminal charges against Curl, pointing out there is no statute of limitations on federal law under the Mann Act and adding that some state laws in Maryland and Virginia could also apply to the case.
Allard called Curl "the proverbial Jerry Sandusky within this organization," referring to the former Penn State football coach awaiting a likely life sentence for sexually abusing underage boys.
"We're hoping the conclusion of this is exactly the same one they had at Penn State -- the pedophile goes to jail, and those who were aware of it and did nothing are held criminally responsible as well," the attorney said.
As part of a separate lawsuit filed Monday, Allard claims former national team coach Mark Schubert knew of the case for years and tried, without success, to get USA Swimming to investigate.
"Similar to Penn State immediately moving to rid itself of those who knew and did nothing, we are not going to stop until the same is done at USA Swimming, starting with Mr. Wielgus," the attorney said. He also called for the firing of technical vice president David Berkoff, saying he "has admitted to knowing all about Mr. Curl going back to the early 1990s and failed to take effective action to protect young swimmers."
Despite being under investigation since April 2011, Curl was allowed to attend the U.S. Olympic trials this summer with a coaching credential.
"To be honest, I was not surprised people knew about it and did nothing," Currin said. "But when I learned for sure there was actual knowledge, it makes me want to throw up."