World champion swimmer Ariana Kukors was at a Team USA training camp a month before the 2012 Olympic Games when she received an email from the man who had dominated the last decade of her life, her coach, boyfriend and the man who sexually abused her when she was a teenager, former U.S. national team coach Sean Hutchison.
The email reveals the frustration Hutchison, once a rising coaching star, felt in being left home, his concern about other men approaching Kukors and his desire to control her.
"i am here," Hutchison wrote in the email. "it’s painful being here. remember that when you talk to me. you need to tell me what’s going on, yes. but, please be aware that i’m at a disadvantage every time we talk. if i’m quiet, assume the best. "
"That was my Olympic Dream," Kukors wrote in 4,000-word statement she released Friday.
Kukors, a former world record-holder, this week went public for the first time with allegations that Hutchison sexually abused her as a teenager. Hutchison began grooming her for a sexual relationship when she was 13, sexually assaulted her at 16 and continued to have a sexual relationship with her until she was 24, Kukors said.
The Department of Homeland Security with assistance from the Des Moines (WA) police department conducted a search on Hutchison’s apartment just south of Seattle on Tuesday. Officers seized computers and cell phones, according to a person familiar with the investigation.
Law enforcement also conducted searches of warehouses in California and Florida.
Kukors details the abusive nature of her relationship with Hutchison in the piece she called "My Story."
"Any swimmer will tell you about the black line on the bottom of every pool . . . the line that we follow day after day. We develop a relationship with that line; it holds our hopes and our dreams, but it also holds our fears. If only that black line could talk, it would tell you of my nightmare.
"To those in the swimming community, if you’ve heard the rumors about me, you may have been wondering if and when I’d find the courage to speak my truth.
"This is the truth."
Hutchison was an assistant coach on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team and Team USA head coach for the World Championships in Rome where Kukors twice lowered the 200-meter individual medley world record. He had one of the top jobs in American swimming, coaching an elite U.S. national team training group in conjunction with the Fullerton Aquatics Sports Team that worked out at the Janet Evans Swim Complex.
But he abruptly resigned in December 2010 after published reports suggested he was romantically involved with a swimmer he coached. USA Swimming investigated the issue but cleared Hutchison a short time later.
Hutchison continued to have an obsessive control of Kukors’ life when she competed at the Olympic Games 20 months later, she wrote.
"Checking in with him constantly, sending him naked pictures every single day as he required of me, and trying not to have too much fun, for fear of him yelling at me,"Kukors said. "After 8 days, the swimming portion of the Olympics concluded and Sean made sure I was on the first flight home the following day, less than halfway through the Games. There would be no closing ceremony for me and certainly no further bonding with my Olympic teammates. In Sean’s eyes, I had been selfish enough, and it was time to come home."
Kukors grew up in the Seattle area and Hutchison came into her life just as she was beginning to display world class potential.
"I poured everything into my training," she wrote. "I had talent at a young age and progressed quickly with the help of extraordinary age group coaches; coaches who supported, developed, and challenged me in all the right ways. When I was 13, just on the cusp of making the USA National Team, I was handed off to a new coach, Sean Hutchison."
Hutchison, a Maryland native, was already viewed as rising star in American swimming’s coaching ranks, having worked as an assistant coach under Paul Bergen at the Tualatin Hills Swim Club, a program with an international reputation located outside Portland. Bergen was later forced out at the club following accusations by Deena Deardurff Schmidt, a 1972 Olympic gold medalist, that Bergen sexually abused her more than 40 years ago.
"Sean was an up and coming coach with a great reputation and we were excited to have him at King Aquatic Club." Kukors said. "He was personable, well-liked, charismatic, and an incredibly convincing leader. We hung onto every word he said.
"The grooming started immediately. Each of us had to shake his hand after every practice. A simple handshake, but it was a first step; contact.
"Sean made sure we craved his attention and always had a strong hold over his female swimmers; we would do anything for him and he knew it. Before long, we were waking up early to pick up coffee and a scone for him before morning practice. He made everyone feel special. He’d ask about our lives, how we were feeling, what we were up to that night. He’d stay on the pool deck and talk to us after practice.
"I got a cellphone when I was 15 and we began texting. He made me feel special; the chosen one in some ways, both in and out of the water. And I was swimming better than ever."
Later that year Kukors and Hutchison’s talks took a deeply personal turn.
"Sean made his move in the Mt. Rainier Pool parking lot, a hole in the wall complex just outside of Seattle," she said. "I was standing by his car talking after practice wearing baggy gray sweatpants with TROJANS, my high school mascot, written down the side in green. I was 15.
"He asked me if I was wearing underwear.
"I said no.
"I’ll never forget the look on his face, it was almost mischievous as he was trying to gauge my response.
"From that point on, everything was different."
From there the intensity of the relationship and Hutchison’s misconduct and control of Kukors escalated.
"I’d like to tell you it only happened a few times, but that was just the beginning of an extensive, abusive, and incredibly manipulative relationship that spanned the better part of the next decade of my life," she said.
"We talked all the time. Post-race hugs that lasted just a little too long, coffee meetings outside of practice, and constant texting were the ways he made sure I relied on him for everything. He began by having me sit on his lap when we were alone, then progressed to kissing me in elevators, and touching me over my clothes. He once put a paper ring on my ring finger that read, "My beautiful Ari," and told me he wanted to spend his life with me. He was 34. I was 16.
"That was the year the relationship turned sexual. I’d never been physical with anyone before but I now found myself alone with him, engaging in sexual acts and trying to hide my embarrassment when he sat in the women’s locker room and watched me shower. But he said he loved me, and I thought he held the keys to my future – not just to my swimming career, but to my whole life.
"In the summer of 2006, I had just turned 17 and qualified for my first travel trip with Team USA to the Pan Pacific Games in Victoria, Canada. I won a silver medal in the 400-meter individual medley but the increasingly sexual nature of our relationship was beginning to overshadow anything that I accomplished in the pool."
Although recruited by national power house Georgia, Hutchison insisted Kukors stay close to home– and him– and attend Washington.
"Throughout my senior year, our sexual activity continued to become more and more frequent," Kukors said. "Every meet we went to – meets that shaped not only my swimming career, but the trauma that I now carry with me everywhere I go – was marred with acts that still haunt me to this day.
"We did ‘everything but.’
"He was saving that until I was 18.
"Shortly after my 18th birthday, we had traveled out-of-state for one of the summer’s swim meets. Sean snuck me into his room to finally give me my "gift"; I’ll spare you the details, but the memory of that night will always haunt me. The parent chaperone knocked on Sean’s door, telling him I wasn’t in my room. Sean sent him on a wild goose chase, while smuggling me into the stairwell as I pretended to be on the phone with my Mom.
"A liar. That’s what I had become."
Eventually Kukors followed Hutchison to Orange County, training under him in the USA Swimming elite program at FAST. While the pair would have to keep their relationship a secret from the swimming community, Kukors said "we could stay at each other’s apartments like a ‘real couple.’ This was an enticing thought as I craved some kind of normalcy in the lie I was living.
"I think back on those times now, tearfully asking why no one helped me . . . why no one stepped in to save me from this monster. It’s still hard to comprehend, but Sean had perfected the art of grooming; I wasn’t even aware I needed saving. And as long as I swam fast, it seemed easy enough for the organizations that have masterfully buried these tragedies for years, to once again brush off the rumors.
"Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months turned into years. Before I knew it, I was a grown adult – or so my age would tell you. People continued to whisper; they suspected what was going on behind closed doors. A star swimmer craving attention and love? Of course I’d turn to the man who had groomed me from the age of 13. In addition, he had a longtime girlfriend. He told me she was his alibi, in case someone suspected us. I now know he told her something entirely different.
"Looking back, I don’t even recognize the young girl Sean so meticulously controlled and manipulated. I was lying to everyone around me… My parents. My sisters. My teammates. My friends. I began to distance myself from all of them, in fear that they would find out my secret. When asked about the rumors, I didn’t even bat an eye when I replied that they simply weren’t true. Even now, when my sisters ask me why I hadn’t confided in them, it’s hard to explain. He told me that we were in love, and while our relationship had to remain a secret, he promised that one day it would be out in the open and we could live as a true couple.
"The truth was not an option, or so I believed. So I carried my web of lies with me, like a coat of armor."
That web included lying to USA Swimming after a Washington Post story in December 2010.
Former U.S. national team director Mark Schubert has acknowledged leaking rumors about Hutchison and Kukors to the Post. A private investigator familiar to Schubert took at least one photograph that depicted the cars of Hutchison and Kukors, then 21,parked close to each other outside Hutchison’s apartment around 5 a.m., according to documents obtained by the Orange County Register.
"In January of 2011, USA Swimming investigated the claims made against Sean and myself," Kukors said. "The extent of my part in the investigation was me spending a few minutes on the phone with a private investigator. 19 questions I counted. I was scared. I lied. I had never felt more alone in all my life.
"Several weeks later, USA Swimming aggressively closed the book on the investigation, putting out a public statement saying they had found no wrongdoing, and calling rumors about Sean ‘malicious lies.’
"Well that shut me up real quick. But I think they knew. I think everyone knew. No I never thought I would share my story, because in so many ways, just surviving was enough. No one flew out to meet me. No one seemed to care what happened to me in all this"
Kukors finally left Hutchison in 2013.
In the wake of sexual scandal involving former U.S. Olympic and USA Gymnastics women’s national team physician Larry Nassar, Kukors decided it was time to tell her story.
"I was able to leave a horrible monster, and build a life I could have never imagined for myself. But in time, I’ve realized that stories like my own are too important to go unwritten. Not for the sake of you knowing my story, but for the sake of the little girls and boys whose lives and futures hang in the grasp of a horribly powerful and manipulative person. That they may not have to go through the same pain, trauma, horror, and abuse. That their parents, mentors, and guardians are better able to spot the signs of grooming and realize its tragic consequences before it’s too late.
"Because the time for change is now. It’s time to change the way we talk about sexual abuse, the way we respond to sexual abuse, and the way the system understands and prevents sexual abuse. And with all my heart, I hope that each and every abuse victim knows their story matters, it is important, and their voice will be heard whenever and however they choose to use it."