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Awareness seminar aims to get athletes to speak up

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NORTH RIDGEVILLE — Softball coach and sports mentor Amie (Leffew) O’Brien watched the news as hundreds of gymnasts accused former Team USA gymnastics physician and Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar of sexual abuse.

Nassar, the convicted child molester accused by more than 260 girls and women of sexual abuse, was sentenced up to 175 years in prison in January.

It was then when O’Brien, president and owner of Leffew Fastpitch in North Ridgeville, realized she needed to let the hundreds of athletes who walk through her doors every month know that it is OK to speak up if someone is mistreating them.

An awareness seminar starting at 6 p.m. April 8 at Leffew Fastpitch, 7725 Victory Lane, North Ridgeville, aims to empower athletes and let them know that it is not OK to be abused by those in power. The event, which is sponsored by KellyAnn Spa and Glam and Method Sports and Fitness, is free and open to the public. To register, visit www.leffewfastpitch.com or call (440) 353-0460.

The evening, which will include education by the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, also will feature guest speaker Liz Ferro, founder and CEO of Girls with Sole. Ferro lived in four foster homes before her adoption at the age of 2. As a child, she was sexually abused by a neighbor and found solace in fitness and running. To date, Ferro has completed 70 marathons and countless other road races and triathlons. The empowerment gained from sports and fitness led her to launch the nonprofit Girls with Sole.

“This very impactful event will address the threat and concern in sports today of sexual abuse and harassment,” O’Brien said. “We will take an inspiring and educational approach to encourage athletes to be aware and to tell someone if they sense inappropriate behavior by a coach.”

O’Brien said coaches and mentors should provide a safe environment where athletes can better themselves.

“We need to tell girls what is OK and what is not OK,” she said. “The issue is … this is still very taboo, and girls have been programmed to thinking that adults are always right.”

O’Brien hopes that by attending the awareness seminar both male and female athletes will start talking about what may be happening behind closed doors or in uncomfortable situations.

“The more comfortable they are talking about it, the more they may be willing to come forward,” she said.

O’Brien, a 1999 graduate of Keystone High School, said no gender or sport is excluded from the possibility of sexual abuse.

“Sometimes the best people do bad things,” she said.

Contact Melissa Linebrink at 329-7243 or mlinebrink@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @MLinebrinkCT.



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