Congratulations to Laura Weiss the first recipient of the annual Banks & Brower, LLC College Scholarship. The scholarship required admission to a university and a demonstration of having overcome an extreme hardship. Below, the picture, read Laura’s inspiring story. Congratulations Laura and best of luck!
Banks & Brower, LLC Inaugural College Scholarship
Laura E. Weiss, Personal Essay
I feel honored to have the opportunity to apply for the inaugural Banks & Brower, LLC college scholarship. I never imagined that I would have had to face a horrific adversity in my life. Instead of letting it destroy me, I’ve chosen to rise above it.
In the first few weeks of my freshman year at Lawrence North High School (I was 14 years old) I was sexually abused on several occasions by my thirty-six year old swim coach. He had been the head coach of our team since I was seven years old and had directly coached me since I was eleven, as he had chosen to move me up to the highest training group with him. He knew that I had a love of swimming, was highly motivated and had great potential to be a fast swimmer. He was aware of that and that I trusted him to help me reach my potential; he abused me and that trust.
I was at a very vulnerable point in my life, adjusting to the new high school scene with the insecurities and confusion as any other normal fourteen year old girl. My coach had a very scary and intimidating side to him. He made me feel like he was powerful over me and so many swimmers were afraid to cross him because he would make you pay for it in the water. After he abused me, he then made threatening comments so that I would feel sorry for him and not disclose what he had done. I didn’t realize it at the time but he had been “grooming” me for almost a year, as he had groomed other young female swimmers before me. When I finally had enough, I told him that it had to stop no matter what the consequence. I was too afraid to tell him to his face so I texted him. He repeatedly tried to talk me out of it and would not leave me alone. I was completely terrified and hurt but I was able to come forward and tell what had happened to my parents. I was so worried of what would become of my life at home, school and the pool. Wondering how my peers would react consumed me and drained me to no end. I had no doubt that coming forward was the right thing to do. What had happened to me was absolutely wrong and he needed to be held accountable for his actions. The last thing that I wanted was for this to happen to another girl on the swim team who might naively trust him and be abused as I had.
Throughout the next weeks and months, I spent a considerable amount of time with Marion County Sex Crimes detectives and prosecutors detailing (and reliving) every detail of my ordeal. I became very familiar with this part of society that I had never known even existed. I missed some school and swim practice. Even when I was there physically, I wasn’t really there mentally or emotionally. I struggled with self-injury and depression. I met regularly with both a psychiatrist and sports therapist who worked hard to help me gain emotional and mental strength. My high school principal at Lawrence North, Mr. Brett Crousore, my guidance counselor, Mr. Brad Cangany and my teachers at Lawrence North were very instrumental in helping me get back on track academically. They also understood and did everything they could to help me cope and stay focused at school.
By the fall of my sophomore year, the coach pled guilty to three felony sex crimes under a plea agreement. I was the primary witness before the court at his sentencing hearing. I was once again exposed to the scary side of our society. In the witness stand of the Superior Court, I read my statement in front a packed courtroom. This included the judge, multiple attorneys and members of the media, my family, friends, teammates and my abuser’s family. Not twenty feet from me sat my abuser. This was the first time I’d seen him since he was arrested almost a year prior. It was a nightmare to relive the traumatic events in my life especially in front of the man that was the cause of all of my pain. The judge sentenced him to ten years in prison plus five years probation. I appreciated the judge’s comments to me, ‘This little girl’s one of the most courageous young ladies that I have encountered in my business from the bench……and she will succeed. And she will get beyond this and she will herself become a model for other young people, an inspiration for other young people, and a mentor, as they gave me strength and hope as I left the courtroom. Soon the media coverage died down and I started to heal.
Then, in my junior year, I was notified that my abuser had filed a motion for a sentence reduction after only being imprisoned for about a year. I once again had to go to court and speak in front of a similar audience explaining why it was wrong for this to even be considered. The question that was in my mind was, “What of the crimes he pled guilty to and was convicted of had changed from September 8, 2010 to now, that should change his punishment?” I believed that he was rightly sentenced for the crimes he committed. Now that his sentence might be in question made me feel like the belief and support I had behind his conviction is now being questioned; like the punishment that was given the first time wasn’t correct. The judge denied his attempt at a sentence reduction and I was promised it would all finally be finished.
I was starting to make real progress in healing, I was confident that he was safely behind bars. In March 2012, once again learned that my abuser had “gamed” the justice system and was soon to be released from prison. He had been awarded two college degrees in thirteen months of incarceration and was therefore eligible for early release. I was infuriated and in shock. How was something like this possible after all the trials and tribulations my family and I had undergone to get justice? I was also afraid to have him out of prison, which made me feel no longer safe.
During this intense period of hurt and confusion in my life, I felt as if there was no way out and I would be broken forever. I came to realize through the amazing support of my family, friends, school advisors and peers that I could overcome the adversity that had been set upon me. I was sometimes not able to give 100 percent to my school or swimming since this was taking so much out of me, but I did strive to be as successful as possible. There were times when my GPA of 3.833 didn’t seem high enough for me. But I had to remind myself that I continued to take rigorous AP and Honors classes during all of this, as I truly wanted to excel academically and challenge myself. I decided to stay in swimming and be as strong as I could even though I had considered quitting the sport that I had loved for so long. The pain that I felt every time I stepped on the pool deck slowly faded over time as my strength and ability to rise above this ordeal increased.
At the end of my freshman year I was on the state relay team, where we became All-Americans after setting a school record breaking time. I was also the only freshman to qualify for the state meet in an individual event. Staying a part of the team was the best decision that I could have made throughout my struggles. Although it was one of the most painful decisions at some point, turning away and letting my abuser win by discouraging me was never an option. As I continued in my high school career I realized that I did not just want to be just a member of the team, but I wanted to be a leader for the girls that had entered the team after me. This eventually led me to becoming the team captain of the women’s swimming and diving team this past year as a senior and I took this as a tremendous responsibility and honor. I was awarded the Mental Attitude Award my junior year, and the MVP, Academic All-American and the U.S. Army Reserve National Scholar/Athlete awards my senior year.
These have meant a great deal to me, as I wanted my team to see me as a leader and to inspire them to always do their best no matter what I was selected by my coach and Athletic Director to be a member of the Lawrence North High School Student Athlete Council and was named an Athlete of Character for the women’s swimming and diving team would never though during the first days of my ordeal that this all would have been possible. I am so grateful I do believe that the only way to show who you truly are is to let it speak through your actions. I know that my memberships in the National Honor Society, National Technical Honor Society, Biomed Club and the Student Athlete Council also helped me in growing as a leader. Giving generously to others through community service requirements allowed me to grow personally and give back, as I was given so much by so many when I was down and hurting. As a result of the public attention drawn to my case, and the “gaming” of the justice system by my abuser, many legislators are outraged by the insignificant penalties and gaps in our system which allow those predators to receive unjustly light sentences and abuse loop holes in education opportunities. I have now found the strength to help. Senator Jim Merritt is leading this venture and my dad, my mom and I have agreed to go and talk to our legislators if needed, on behalf of tougher, stricter guidelines for abusers and especially child abusers.
I am not discouraged by the obstacles that come my way now and because of this I am able to help and hopefully can be an inspiration to others. The girls from the swim team are extremely important to me and having endured the difficulties that I have, I believe I can be great example for them. I did not always have the belief in myself that I could .accomplish whatever I set my mind to but my adversity has changed my perspective that anything is possible. This is what I wanted to lead my teammates with this past season.
For my immediate future, I plan to earn my Bachelors of Science degree in Nursing and then go on to gain my Master’s degree as a Registered Nurse Anesthetist or a Nurse Practitioner. After visiting, recruiting, applying and being accepted to 7 colleges (my mom said “That’s enough.”), I have decided to attend the University of Akron and to be a member of the ZIPS Division Swimming & Diving Team, I know that Akron offers the best nursing program for me and that I will be challenged to pursue my goals. I am excited to be a contributor to another swim team not only by my swimming abilities but by my attitude on and off the pool deck.
I realize that everyone has challenges that adversely affect their lives. I am now well aware that you can’t always control what happens to you in life but you can control how you react. If selected, I would be honored to receive your inaugural college scholarship. This scholarship would greatly help me with the costs of pursuing my goals in nursing. Thank you sincerely for your consideration of my application and the generosity of this scholarship.