NORMAN — Oklahoma gymnast Maggie Nichols is one of hundreds of athletes who have spoken out over the past year about the extensive abuse suffered at the hands of former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State team doctor, Larry Nassar. Since coming forward, Nichols has become even more of a role model for the young girls who have always looked up to her. For her courage and bravery, Nichols will be honored in January as the 2018 NCAA Inspiration Award Winner along with former UCF football player Shaquem Griffin.
Nichols went public in early January as “Athlete A” – the first gymnast to come forward about the sexual abuse inflicted by Larry Nassar. The abuse began when she was 15 years old, when she was a rising star on the United States national team, aiming for a spot at the Olympics.
“The reason I came forward was because I felt that it would help myself but also help others,” Nichols said. “As I saw other girls come forward I gained a lot of strength knowing I wasn’t alone, so I felt with my platform, I could help impact other people (who might) come forward as well.”
Created in 2001 by the NCAA Honors Committee, the Inspiration Award may be presented to a coach or administrator currently associated with intercollegiate athletics or to a current or former varsity letterwinner at an NCAA institution who, when confronted with a life-altering situation, used perseverance, dedication and determination to overcome the event and now serves as a role model to give hope and inspiration to others in similar situations.
Nichols, a Little Canada, Minn. native will receive her award on January 23 at the annual NCAA Honors Dinner as part of the NCAA Convention in Orlando. Nichols is the second winner from Oklahoma, joining 2005 honoree Michelle Thomas.
Just days before the 2018 season began, Nichols decided to let the world know that she too was a victim, releasing her statement to the public. Her incredible courage and bravery has led her to become an inspiration to her peers and thousands of little girls who have looked up to her since her days as a national team member.
“Coming forward made me a stronger person,” she said. “Going through such a traumatic event and growing the courage to come forward took a lot of strength for me. It was very hard. But after I did so, I felt that I was inspiring others which gave me so much strength and made me feel like an inspiration which is so motivating.”
Though she went public a week before the Sooners would compete at Georgia in the opening meet of the season, Nichols did not let it distract her from becoming the nation’s top gymnast.
In 2018, she held the top spot in the all-around every week of the season, culminating in an NCAA Individual National Championship in the all-around. Nichols added two more national titles on bars and floor. She is the only gymnast to ever post two perfect 10s on every event, becoming the first and only gymnast to post back-to-back “Gym Slams” with a 10.0 on every event in consecutive seasons.
Along with her honors on the national level, Nichols was also the 2018 South Central Region Gymnast of the Year, the 2018 Big 12 Gymnast of the Year and a two-time Big 12 Individual Champion (floor, all-around).
“I learned so much about myself through this whole process,” she said. “I knew that I was capable of doing anything I set my mind to. I think that this made me mentally stronger, and helped me push myself in gymnastics which helped me win the all-around this year. I showed myself that I can overcome any difficult thing that comes my way, and grow even stronger from it.”