Olympic Medalist Goes Public With Sexual Abuse

Margaret Hoelzer squirms in the leather chair, trying to get comfortable. She kicks off the flip-flops and tucks her feet underneath her body. Shifting again, she slings her legs over the side of the chair, revealing the star-spangled toenail polish that still remains from the Beijing Olympics.

She takes a deep breath, ready to reveal her secret -- saying she was sexually abused as a child.

Now, the swimmer who won three medals at the Beijing Olympics is ready to share her story and work to make sure what she says happened to her doesn't happen to other kids.

"It's nerve-wracking," Hoelzer said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press. "Some days I feel great about it, and I'm completely at peace with it, completely calm and ready to do this. Then, there are other days where I'm like, 'Oh my God, do I really want to do this?"'

Hoelzer was born 25 1/2 years ago in Huntsville, a north Alabama city tucked into a valley of the Tennessee River, not far from the state line. Her paternal grandfather was brought over from Germany after World War II, a member of Wernher von Braun's team that would help send Americans to the moon.

She proudly points out that her grandpa invented the analog computer, and her father became an engineer in the booming town that grew to be known as the "Rocket City." It should have been an idyllic childhood.

It wasn't.

Hoelzer says she was 5 years old when the abuse by a playmate's father started.

Although the timeline is a bit fuzzy due to her young age, Hoelzer and her mother believe the abuse went on for at least two years, ending when that family moved away.

"I was going to their house on a regular basis," Hoelzer said. "I would spend the night at their house from time to time. ... It was definitely a situation where I was taught to trust that person."

She wasn't even sure what was going on was wrong.

"I didn't connect the dots other than feeling uncomfortable," Hoelzer said. "I think on a subconscious level I knew it. But consciously, I didn't."

Even after the abuse stopped, it took years to realize what happened. Finally, in the fifth grade, Hoelzer was walking in the neighborhood with her best friend, talking about all the things in life that seem so important to 11-year-old girls. Suddenly, the awful truth poured out.

"She was the one who was like, 'Oh my God, you were molested,"' Hoelzer said. "You need to tell your mom.' She was the one who actually put a name on it for me."

Heeding her friend's advice, young Margaret went to her mother. "She was putting up a border in her bedroom," Hoelzer said. "Of course, I go in there and volunteer to help. She's probably wondering why in the world does she want to help me do this? Luckily, it was a very thick border. It took forever to do."

All the while, a child told her story to a stunned parent.

"She was very quiet and listened," Hoelzer recalled. "I remember from time to time, she would say things to kind of prod me along. I was very, very lucky because she 100 percent believed me. She never questioned it. Most importantly, she just let me talk. She didn't freak out."

Hoelzer's mom immediately told her father. That night, the police were called. The family was directed to the National Child Advocacy Center, which lined up counseling for everyone and showed them how to pursue legal action.

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