Citing abuse, Eaker, 20, retires from gymnastics

Citing abuse, Eaker, 20, retires from gymnastics

Kara Eaker, a former national team member and two-time world champion, announced her retirement from gymnastics after experiencing alleged abuse at the University of Utah. The 20-year-old Eaker said Friday in an Instagram post that she was also withdrawing from the school.

“For two years, while training with the Utah Gymnastics team, I was a victim of verbal and emotional abuse,” Eaker wrote. “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, an alternate for the U.S. Olympic team in 2021, competed for Utah for the past two seasons and helped lead the team to back-to-back third-place finishes at the NCAA championships. In her post, Eaker said she had been “promised a ‘family’ within this program and a ‘sisterhood’ with my teammates, who would accept me, care for me, and support” when she was initially being recruited by the school but found her experience to be markedly different.

“Instead, as I entered as a freshman, I was heartbroken to find the opposite in that I was training in an unhealthy, unsafe and toxic environment,” Eaker said.

While not naming any coaches directly, Eaker said much of the abuse she experienced took place in individual meetings with “an overpowering coach.” Tom Farden has been at the helm of the program since 2016, as a co-head coach from 2016 to 2019 and as the sole head coach since the 2020 season.

Eaker said she was verbally targeted during practice in front of her teammates.

“Instead of receiving positive and encouraging critiques to improve my skills, I was scared to death by the loud and angry outbursts from the coach,” she said before citing specific profanity-laden comments she had heard.

Saying she requested meetings and support from members of the school’s athletic department, Eaker said her claims were “completely dismissed.”

Farden and the team’s culture were the subject of an investigation that concluded in September. Husch Blackwell, an outside law firm, determined Farden “did not engage in any severe, pervasive or egregious acts of emotional or verbal abuse of student-athletes” and “did not engage in any acts of physical abuse, emotional abuse or harassment as defined by SafeSport Code.” He was deemed to have made a derogatory comment to a member of the team, but other similar reported comments could “not be independently corroborated and were denied by Coach Farden.” He also “more likely than not threw a stopwatch and a cellular telephone in frustration in the presence of student-athletes” but the investigation found such acts were “not repeated or severe.”

Eaker called the investigation “incomplete at best” in her post and said it lacked credibility.

A Utah spokesperson told ESPN late Monday that there is no statement from the school or Farden at this point.

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D’Arcy Maine

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