In her debut YA memoir Unstoppable! (Roaring Brook, Jan.), eight-time NCAA champion Maggie Nichols details her experience as the first athlete on the U.S. national gymnastics team to report the sexual abuse she endured from former sports medicine physician Larry Nassar. With Hope Innelli, Nichols chronicles her involvement in the investigation of allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated by Nassar alongside her rise to elite-level fame and her years attending university. In advance of her appearance at ALA 2024, Nichols spoke with PW about her memoir and how teachers, librarians, and caretakers can use it as a resource to support kids.

What lessons, messages, or themes do you hope readers will take from your memoir and apply to their own life?

Health education, self-advocacy, and themes of support, solidarity, empowerment, and resilience feature heavily throughout Unstoppable! The memoir also addresses sensitive topics such as sexual abuse, mental health, and disordered eating.

By taking control of my narrative and seeking support from trusted individuals, I felt empowered to do what was right and report my abuse to authorities. Readers can be inspired to assert their own agency, advocate for their needs, and seek help when necessary. In showing how I spoke out about my abuse and stood up for myself and others, my memoir also presents a powerful message for readers that emphasizes the importance of using one’s voice to advocate for justice and accountability, even in the face of fear or intimidation.

My story highlights the significance of support and solidarity from friends, family, and allies. Readers can learn the importance of building strong support networks, speaking up against injustice, and offering compassion, solidarity, and support to those in need or who may be experiencing struggles like my own. By fostering connections and offering support to others, readers can create a more compassionate and empathetic community.

My hope is that readers can apply these lessons and themes to their own lives and find the strength and inspiration to overcome challenges and pursue their dreams.

How do you envision Unstoppable! being used by teachers in the classroom?

Unstoppable! offers educators a powerful tool for engaging students in meaningful discussions, promoting critical thinking skills, and fostering empathy and resilience. Teachers can use the book as a springboard for discussions about these issues and provide students with information, resources, and strategies for recognizing and responding to abuse or navigating difficult situations. Excerpts can function as motivational readings or discussion prompts that will encourage students to reflect on their own strengths, setbacks, and aspirations. By incorporating the book into their curriculum, teachers can help students gain a deeper understanding of complex social issues while empowering them to make positive changes in their own lives and communities.

How can educators and caregivers support kids and young adults who are navigating trauma from sexual abuse?

It requires a compassionate, informed, and multi-faceted approach. As a trusted adult, it’s crucial to create a safe, welcoming, and comfortable environment where kids feel they can talk to you.

You must develop genuine, caring relationships with kids and be consistent in your presence and support. Reliability helps build trust and a sense of safety. Show them that you’re reliable and supportive by being an attentive and empathetic listener. Foster an environment of respect, understanding, and non-judgment. Let them know that their feelings and experiences are valued. Be sensitive to kids’ differing backgrounds and recognize that their home lives are varied. Be the stable figure they might not have elsewhere. Ensure that your space is inviting, secure, and predictable: comfortable seating, a warm atmosphere, and a sense of privacy can make a significant difference, while predictability can help counterbalance any instability they may face at home.

Always encourage open communication. Make it clear that you are available and open to talk about anything, whether it’s related to abuse or other concerns. Regularly discuss topics like boundaries, consent, and emotional well-being in an age-appropriate manner and reassure them that it’s okay to talk about difficult topics and that seeking help is a sign of strength. Celebrate that strength.

Learn about the signs and effects of trauma and sexual abuse to better understand and support kids. Respect their privacy and ensure confidentiality; be prepared to respond to disclosures of abuse with compassion and the necessary steps to ensure their safety and well-being. Ensure that they receive the care and support they deserve; guide them to professional resources such as counselors, therapists, and support groups, and advocate for the child’s needs in different settings.

By embodying these principles, offering them a safe space, and providing the support they need, you can make a meaningful impact on the lives of kids and young adults who are trying to navigate and heal from trauma.

How does Unstoppable! fit in with the work you do through the Maggie Nichols Foundation?

My mission through the foundation is to empower other survivors, raise awareness, advocate for change, and help survivors find the help and resources they need. By talking about the abuse I suffered, I bring attention to the issue and help people gain a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by survivors of abuse, and how prevalent abuse is.

Unstoppable! serves as a testament to the resilience and strength of survivors. I hope my memoir empowers other survivors by showing them that it is possible to overcome and heal and that others will be inspired to use their voice to share their own stories. I also hope that my book allows other survivors to feel they aren’t alone and that there are people they can reach out to and lean on who have faced similar challenges.

Maggie Nichols will participate in the afternoon author reception on Sunday, June 30, 1–2 p.m. PST.

Unstoppable! My Journey from World Champion to Athlete A to 8-Time NCAA National Gymnastics Champion and Beyond by Maggie Nichols with Hope Innelli. Roaring Brook, $19.99 Jan. ISBN 978-1-250-86022-4