Former high school track star Mary Jane Richards, says she was sexually abused by her coach

In a shocking story published by CBC News last month, Ottawa native Mary Jane Richards revealed that her high school coach, Peter Des Brisay, groomed her for years for sex, and that the resulting trauma ended her track career.

Richards was one of the top high school runners in the country during the 1990s. She won the Ontario and Canadian cross-country championships three years in a row, and won almost every big race she entered. Des Brisay was Richards’ homeroom teacher at Ottawa’s Bell High School for four years, starting when she was just 13, as well as being her cross-country coach. Des Brisay, himself an accomplished athlete, took a special interest in her raw talent, and Richards says he became like a father figure.

“I had this really awesome adult who happened to be a really popular teacher and an amazing athlete, an amazing coach, thinking that I was worthy of that attention and special,” she told CBC News.

As she got older, the relationship progressed, eventually including “inappropriate massages, explicit emails and sexual intercourse,” Richards says. Now 44, she says what she thought was love was really an abuse of power by someone 15 years older than herself who was in a position of authority. The relationship between Richards and Des Brisay caused some alarm to those around them, including Ray Elrik, another coach who was often at competitions with the pair. On one occasion, he recalls telling Des Brisay “to keep the f–king door open” whenever she was in his room with him.

“Nobody’s allowed [to have] closed doors,” said Richards’ former teammate, Kristen Marvin. “That’s a policy. If ever coaches were in rooms, the door always had to be open.”

Ultimately, Richards chose to come forward in hopes that it will help others who have gone through similar experiences. “I also just want others to know, if they are carrying this alone, there is one more person out there who’s speaking up and talking about their experience,” she said. “It’s really hard, because it’s the most shameful thing that’s ever happened to you.”

Because it happened at such a young age, Richards describes the trauma she experienced as a cornerstone of her personality.

“I would have loved to have not been interfered with,” she added. “I would have loved for my trajectory not to have had a monkey wrench thrown into it. I would just have loved to see how far I could have gone without things changing the way they did.”

posted Wednesday July 14th
by Brittany Hambleton