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The former gymnast, now an attorney, became the heroine in the Larry Nassar sex abuse conviction, and continues to push for cultural change By Dale G. Young, The Detroit News

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The first former gymnast to publicly accuse Michigan State University sports doctor Larry Nassar of abuse received an award from Sports Illustrated this week, and she was introduced by another woman whose claims of mistreatment were publicly aired and who pushed to be heard.

Rachael Denhollander received the publication’s Inspiration of the Year Award during a ceremony in California. Before stepping up, she was preceded by a video message from Christine Blasey Ford, speaking for the first time since her hearing before a Senate committee after she accused now-confirmed Justice Brett Kavanaugh of assault.

More: Rachael Denhollander: 'Amazing role model for all women'

Ford testified that Kavanaugh attacked her while they were in high school three decades ago. Kavanaugh denied all the accusation, calling it a smear ahead of a vote on his nomination. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Oct. 6.

In the taped remarks for the Sports Illustrated event, Ford hailed Denhollander, whose accusation that Nassar assaulted her when she was 15 blew open the Nassar investigation. Ford called her “a woman I admire so much — a woman who suffered abuse as a vulnerable teenage athlete, who found the courage to talk publicly to stop the abuse of others. Her courage inspired other survivors to end their silence. And we all know the result.”

Nassar is serving more than 100 years in prison after hundreds of girls and women said he sexually abused them under the guise of medical treatment when he worked for Michigan State and Indiana-based USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians. 

"Rachael Denhollander, I am in awe of you, and I will always be inspired by you," Ford said in the message. "In stepping forward, you took a huge risk and you galvanized future generations to come forward, even when the odds are seemingly stacked against them. The lasting lesson is that we all have the power to create real change, and we cannot allow ourselves to be defined by the acts of others."

Denhollander, who now is an attorney, has been named a Michiganian of the Year and recently spoke at a Vermont conference on preventing child sexual abuse.

In July, the young women and girls abused by Nassar received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award by ESPN. As a short film featuring the athletes played, 140 women and girls assembled on the stage to a standing ovation.

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