CORNWALL – An Olympic swimmer and survivor of sexual abuse says fellow survivors need to be strong and persistent about reaching out for help and revealing they’re a victim.
“Be that squeaky wheel,” Margaret Hoelzer told 600 people at the Children’s Treatment Center breakfast at the Cornwall Civic Complex Wednesday morning (Oct. 17).
“I always advocate how important it is to tell. Be that squeaky wheel. If one person doesn’t believe you, tell 25 more people. I was very lucky the first two people believed me. My 11 year old friend and my mother. That unfortunately doesn’t happen very often. So many people tell and they give up because the first person they tell doesn’t believe them,” Hoelzer said.
The Huntsville, Ala. native was sexually abused by a family friend over two years, starting at the age of five. It only ended “by shear luck” after her perpetrator and his family moved. She didn’t reveal her secret until she was 11 years old.
“This is not someone that was scary. This was someone that my parents knew very well, this is someone that my parents trusted. This is someone that I trusted.”
The Olympic swimmer poured herself into swimming as an outlet to cope. While winning Olympic medals, Hoelzer said success bucks a stereotype of victims of abuse turning to drugs, alcohol and getting into trouble. “Sometimes we don’t scratch the surface and say, what is motivating that person? Is it coming from a healthy place?”
“I think there’s an under-diagnosed problem which is overachieving. I never felt good about myself and I never felt that anything that I could do was good enough. It took a 4.0 grade average, making the national team, making the Olympic team not to be above people but just to somehow raise the bar so I felt like I was even with people,” she said.
Hoelzer said “the most important part of the entire process” of treating abuse is to get counselling at places like the Children’s Treatment Center.
Hoelzer was on her first trip to Canada for a speaking engagement. She came to Cornwall a day early so she could tour the Children’s Treatment Center. She lives in Seattle, Wash.