Cal Swimmers Say McKeever Learned Their Traumas at Retreats, Then Exploited Them

by Riley Overend 222

June 11th, 2022 College, News, Pac-12

More details emerged in the latest Orange County Register story on the allegedly abusive culture that longtime coach Teri McKeever created while leading Cal’s decorated women’s swimming and diving program. 

According to newly-published interviews with more than a dozen former Cal swimmers and divers from the 1999-2004 period, McKeever used “team-building” exercises at retreats as opportunities to pinpoint past traumatic experiences that she’d exploit in future bullying. Women said they were pressured to share personal secrets including past sexual experiences, sexual orientation, traumatic losses, embarrassing moments, chronic illnesses, and eating disorders in front of their coaches and teammates. Two swimmers recalled that McKeever, who was placed on administrative leave two weeks ago in the wake of SCNG’s initial investigation, was present while athletes were asked if they had been sexually assaulted at one retreat. 

“Teri is big on team bonding,” a woman who swam for Cal from 2006 to 2010 told the OC Register. “She says it will make us a better team, we will understand each other better so we could form a cohesive team.

“But the team retreats are just her putting us in a place of vulnerability that she would openly mock you or degrade you in front of the team.”

One source told SwimSwam that some swimmers swore to secrecy during these retreats.

During one “team-building” exercise in the late 2000s, swimmers were reportedly told to line up in order from most valuable to the team to least valuable. 

“At the very back a girl was shoving people out of the way to get the back spot,” a swimmer on the 2009-10 team said. “The girl was shaking. I can’t tell you how weird and messed up it was from a psychological standpoint. I wanted to be more at the back and one of the girls was literally pushing us forward, saying, ‘No, you should go ahead of us.’ Girls were sobbing uncontrollably.

“I just remember being very confused. It seemed extremely bizarre. And I remember feeling like it was extremely unacceptable.”

Nearly a decade earlier, McKeever allegedly pushed swimmers to focus on training and team building even amid the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The team heard about the tragedy after a morning practice, then had an afternoon practice and a previously scheduled retreat to Lake Tahoe. There, they were isolated from the outside world, unable to use cell phones or laptops.

“That whole grieving experience the nation was going through, we didn’t get to go through,” said Katherine McAdoo, a Virginia native whose mother “ducked” when American Flight 77 flew right above her in the final 1 1/2 miles before it crashed into the Pentagon. “We didn’t get to participate in that.

“It was confusing. It was the beginning of learning how to shut down your feelings. The first lesson is if you’re going to swim for Teri, you have to learn how to shut down your feelings.”

Taylor Young was reportedly a frequent target of McKeever’s bullying in 2013, when her health rapidly declined and she was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease. The autoimmune disease can lead to an enlarged thyroid, heart problems, mental health issues, sexual or reproductive dysfunction, and increased risk of miscarriage. 

Young said she carried the gene for Hashimoto’s disease, but doctors told her that the disorder was triggered in an otherwise healthy teenager by the stress she was experiencing at Cal. 

“It was triggered by the immense stress of swimming under Teri,” Young said. 

Young claimed she received no support from McKeever even though it was clear she was ill. She stopped menstruating and gained weight while suffering from brain fog, anxiety, depression, and hot flashes. Attempting to prioritize swimming, she stopped attending classes. In February of 2014, she broke her foot while running only to face pressure to continue practicing in full capacity. 

“She told me either get back in the water and swim the whole practice on a broken foot or not at all,” Young recalled. “Teri said either swim completely or not at all. There was no in-between.”

With her foot in a boot per doctor’s order, Young stopped practicing following McKeever’s ultimatum. When she approached McKeever about transferring, the meeting did not go over well.

“When I broached it she threatened me, yelled at me, screamed at me, yelled at me that she wouldn’t release me, wouldn’t let me swim anywhere else, especially in the Pac 12,” Young said. “When I officially did meet, it was probably the most fearful I’ve been in my life. She said, ‘I hope you treat your future bosses like this so they can fire your ass.’”

Leann Toomey said she was singled out early in her freshman year for bullying, with her sleep apnea often the subject of jokes. Other times, she’d be kicked out of practice for not doing a flip turn properly. Soon after the bullying began, Toomey was raped at a fraternity party. Despite being informed by Cal’s athletic training staff, McKeever offered no support. 

“I was raped and there was no ‘We’re here for you,’” Toomey said. “It was like you’re just going to have to get over that.”

McKeever’s bullying reportedly continued, but Toomey stayed at Cal until the final straw came after a poor race at the Janet Evans Invitational at USC in 2007.

“She was yelling at me, swearing at me in the locker room, I was fat, I was lazy,” Toomey said. “Other coaches from other teams were coming up to me and asking, ‘Are you OK?’”

The common thread in the latest stories is how the effects of McKeever’s alleged abuse lingered far beyond her swimmers’ careers at Cal. Even after Toomey left Berkley, she couldn’t escape McKeever’s critical voice in her head. In 2018, she tried to take her own life. 

Cindy Tran was also pushed to the brink of suicide in 2014 after McKeever encouraged them to speak with Cal’s assistant athletic director, Mohamed Muqtar, who was fired in 2018 for violating the university’s sexual violence and sexual harassment policy. 

“I would go and talk to Mo about the abuse I was getting from Teri and the trauma I had,” Tran said, “and he groomed me to take advantage of me.”

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swimgirl
19 days ago

https://www.ocregister.com/2022/06/15/ncaa-champion-details-teri-mckeevers-bullying-last-season/

this came out yesterday. All this is so horrible and yet Cal is doing nothing. How she is not fired by now is beyond me. Morale is so low. Time to move on and secure a coach.

moddiddle
Reply to  swimgirl
18 days ago

“She would grab me and tug really hard on my arm and scratch her nails into me,” Gantriis said.

I’m pretty sure that is assault and/or battery. If someone else witnessed this, Gantriis should sue.

swimgirl
Reply to  moddiddle
18 days ago

exactly. They should all join into a class action suit. This all has been unacceptable and had hurt so many and administration condoning it and sweeping under the rug is negligent.

Suzanne
21 days ago

Why is it taking Cal so long to fire McKeever after all these accounts of abuse? I can’t imagine the team being able to recruit any swimmer as long as McKeever is allowed on the pool deck.

Admin
Reply to  Suzanne
21 days ago

I assume that as a public institution that there is a fairly-regimented process they have to follow. That process isn’t really designed for cases like this, it’s designed to protect people who might be discriminated against, for example, and not deserve to be fired, but has to be applied to everyone.

done with abusive coaches
21 days ago

Unfortunately this tactic is used by many coaches who are abusive… they mask it as being “someone who is there for you and listens to you” when sharing vulnerable information but then turns around and uses it against you making you feel helpless. This happened with my former college swim coach who was also under investigation through title 9 for emotional exploitation and sexual abuse and the complaints have been open for years now and the investigation still hasn’t been concluded and was also conducted by a law firm hired by the school. The similarities to this story are eerily familiar and devastating, but we certainly are not as high caliber of a team or as well-known of a team… Read more »

dewey
22 days ago

Does anyone remember a documentary on YouTube where Natalie has started training with the men and she says to the camera something like how she told the girls there that someday they’ll look back on their time at Cal and realize what a weird place it is? I can’t find it on YouTube now, but that line always stuck with me as being a bit odd. It makes more sense now.

Enough is enough
23 days ago

I think in any types of abuse of harassment remember that not everyone is a victim. The aggressor or perp actively chooses or seeks out the victims or easy targets. And some are untouched or turn a blind eye fearful to speak up or afraid they will be the next.

This happens at all levels not just in this case the collegiate level.

It’s not that easy to come forward in any situation and it’s traumatic for the women affected/quoted in the article as well as the teammates who have yet to come forward.

Last edited 23 days ago by Enough is enough
Greg f
23 days ago

Enough already…cal can’t admit it has to cancel someone but let’s move on already…Bob knight anyone???

Swimswam follower
23 days ago

However. Katie Macgauchlin went home to Mission Viejo to prepare for 2008 Olympic Trials. If things were so great at Cal, why did she leave?
I read her parents were FURIOUS about her neck injury.
I would have been too.
And Missy Franklin is too much of a sweetheart but she went back to Cal to train with Dave Durden. You don’t have to read between the lines to figure that out. Missy will always be a legend and will always be a sweetheart.

anonymous
Reply to  Swimswam follower
23 days ago

You can’t even spell her name properly.

Swimswam follower
Reply to  anonymous
23 days ago

McLauchlin, sorry
Thanks for the heads up

See saw
Reply to  Swimswam follower
23 days ago

She was only like 12 in 2008. I think you mean 2016.

Swimswam follower
Reply to  See saw
23 days ago

Yes 2016

Swimswam follower
Reply to  Swimswam follower
22 days ago

Mclaughlin

sam
Reply to  Swimswam follower
23 days ago

“reading between the lines” is the stupidest comment always, You know nothing Jon Snow.

mcmflyguy
Reply to  Swimswam follower
22 days ago

Only a Sith deals in absolutes…

swimgirl
23 days ago

The psychological torture that Teri did daily is horrendous. To say people were scared of her is an understatement. Not only swimmers, but other coaches and the divers as well suffered from her abuses. Heaven forbid you have an injury or are sick. Hopefully other coaches speak up and tell the truth of what they went through with this woman. I hope there is a deep investigation and all the truth is exposed and this woman does not even coach a pack of dogs. Cal should not pay her another penny.

LAN
Reply to  swimgirl
23 days ago

There HAS to be more to Dani Korman’s departure than she simply “resigned” to go back to Yale. My guess is she was a whistle blower on all of this and was too afraid for the longest time to say anything, knowing that Cal was a huge stepping stone for her career. I feel awful for her.

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor in the …

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