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'I hope it has many different impacts': Former Sooner gymnast Maggie Nichols speaks on Netflix documentary 'Athlete A'

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Maggie Nichols

Former Sooner gymnast Maggie Nichols performs on floor during the Sooners meet against Michigan March 6.

Former Sooner gymnast Maggie Nichols wants to be known as herself, not a label.

“Athlete A,” the name given to Nichols as being the first person to come out to USA Gymnastics about sexual abuse from former team doctor Larry Nassar, is also the title of the Netflix documentary that tells the experiences of Nichols and other elite-level gymnasts with USA Gymnastics. 

Nichols, one of the best collegiate gymnasts of all time, finished her career with 22 perfect 10s, two team and two individual NCAA National Championships. She's also known for being a larger-than-life icon that has proved to be an inspiration for many by speaking out about sexual misconduct. Nichols and the other gymnasts gave first-hand accounts of their experience with Team USA, and showed how their grouped support led to Nassar’s prosecution in the documentary.

The day after the film’s release, The Daily spoke with Nichols about the documentary, her experiences and her aspirations going forward. 

Q: What were your initial thoughts and what stuck out to you when you watched it?

Nichols: I just think that the whole documentary in itself is extremely powerful and educational. I think a lot of people don't really understand the extent of how many people were affected by this case, and things like that. So I think that people really can learn and educate themselves from watching this film.

I mean, every single moment of the film is something that's eye opening.

Q: How were you able to balance training in season and school while also being interviewed for the documentary?

Nichols: Yeah it was difficult at times. But when you take a step back and realize what the outcome is going to be, and it makes it all worth it.

The interviews and the time that it takes to film and all that kind of stuff, It was just cool just having all those interviews and video crews and things like that, but ultimately, it's for a bigger purpose. So that makes it all worth it.

Q: Being a star talent in your sport while also being an icon for who you are outside of it, what does it mean to be inspirational for others and to receive the support you’ve gotten?

Nichols: It means the world and I always strive to be an inspiration or be someone that people can reach out to if they need any help or anything like that. So I guess I would say to be an inspiration just means that's what works for me and that's something that I always strive to be. 

I’ve just gotten so much positive feedback and so many people who have reached out whether it's gymnasts or other athletes or anyone, I've gotten a ton of messages and texts and DMs and tweets and things like that. So it really just means the world that people support me and are there for me. So it's been crazy, but it's been great as well.

A lot of people say how they look up to me and how they're proud of me. A lot of people saying thank you because, if I wouldn’t have spoken, a lot of people, a lot more people would have been affected and things like that were said. I've gotten a lot of different responses, which has just been really incredible. 

Q: What do you hope the ultimate impact is from this film?

Nichols: I hope it has many different impacts. But I mean, for me personally, I was not being remembered as just a gymnast, but someone who is an inspiration to other people for speaking out for what is wrong.

I just hope that people really learn a lot from this documentary and it makes people more aware of how serious sexual abuse can really be.

Q: After this documentary, where do you go from here? What’s next for you? And will you ever return to gymnastics?

Nichols: Yeah, so I have undergrad and then I will be the volunteer coach and then I'm looking at a few other different opportunities as well outside of the gymnastics world, which I'm really excited about, but it’s kind of up in the air right now. But I definitely want to explore my options and things like that.

I don't think so. I mean, I literally gave gymnastics everything that I had, and I loved everything that I had on the floor. And I look back at my career and you know I achieved a lot of goals that I didn’t think I would have. My body is done. 

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