ROCKVILLE — — Kelley Currin recalled dancing with her longtime swimming coach, Rick Curl, as a teenage girl the night of his wedding some 30 years ago. She wore a pink dress, held on too long and whispered in his ear, "I hate you."
She told Montgomery County Circuit Judge Marielsa A. Bernard on Thursday how she fell in love with Curl, who was then 33, before her 13th birthday in the early 1980s. She recounted the details of their first kiss near a water fountain at Georgetown Preparatory School and the way years of sexual abuse altered the trajectory of her life.
The judge sentenced Curl, the former coach and founder of the Curl-Burke Swim Club in the Washington suburbs, to seven years' imprisonment and five years' probation. Bernard said she couldn't shake the image of Currin as a girl with dreams of swimming in the Olympics who fell victim "to someone who is in a position of trust and who … is a predator." To her, Curl's behavior showed the "classic" signs of a child sexual abuser.
"I have in my mind this picture of a little girl," Bernard said. "She trusts you. She respects you. She's madly in love with you. There is [so much] psychological damage your actions have done to her."
The abuse, detailed in court documents, began when Currin was about 13 and continued until she was 17. Currin is now 43, a mother of four and a seventh-grade science teacher in the Dallas area.
Curl nurtured a relationship with Currin's parents. He spent nights at their home, ostensibly to take Currin to early-morning practices, took her to dinners and traveled across the country with her for swim meets. The two kissed for the first time when Currin was nearly 13. The abuse progressed to fondling and eventually sexual intercourse, the documents show.
At the conclusion of Thursday's two-hour sentencing hearing, Curl, a 63-year-old father of six, was remanded to custody. He won't be eligible for parole for 31/2 years. Bernard sentenced Curl to the maximum 15 years, but suspended all but seven years of the sentence.
He made a brief statement and apology to Currin.
"Kelley, I want you to know, I am profoundly sorry," Curl said. "Every day of my life has been spent thinking and feeling awful about my behavior."
Turning toward the judge, he said, "I would hope you would see I am a different person."
Curl's attorneys, Bruce Marcus and Thomas Kelly, put forward a defense based on the years since the abuse, which Curl pleaded guilty to in February. They painted a picture of a man who changed his life, overcame alcoholism and lost everything because of a significant "mistake."
About 50 people filled the courtroom, almost all of whom came to support Curl, including his wife, Linda, many of their children, and two former swimmers who characterized him as a man of integrity with a strong moral compass in their statements to the judge. The defense team submitted more than 70 letters in support of Curl to the judge for consideration.
"This is a case that deals with redemption," Marcus said. Since the abuse of Currin ended, Curl "lived honorably, purposefully, as a father, as a mentor, as a coach," he said.
Marcus said that when Currin's parents confronted him in 1986 after discovering the abuse by reading Currin's diary, Curl accepted responsibility. The Davies and Curl entered into a legal settlement in the late 1980s that they wouldn't speak publicly about the abuse in exchange for $150,000. It's unclear whether any legal action will follow for the violation of that agreement.
Curl coached Currin from the time she was 9 until she was about 18, even after the abuse was discovered. Currin and her parents allowed Curl to continue coaching her, under supervision, so a swimming scholarship to the University of Texas wouldn't be jeopardized.
As a result of the abuse, Currin said she suffered anorexia, bulimia and other mental health problems, and struggles with alcoholism that led to the dissolution of her 20-year marriage.
"I loved Rick Curl," Currin said. "I loved him. He was my hero. I have yet to find someone who impacted me as much."
Currin said her motivation for coming forward last summer was to show the damage created by child sexual abuse. She also criticized USA Swimming for its handling of the situation.
John Martin, sports communications manager for the organization, defended USA Swimming and its response to Currin's abuse. Martin said the safety of its athletes is paramount.
"USA Swimming began an immediate investigation into the claims and filed a police report to initiate criminal proceedings in this matter," he said in a statement. "Through its National Board of Review process, USA Swimming permanently revoked Mr. Curl's membership, and directed that his name be placed on USA Swimming's published list of 'Individuals Permanently Suspended or Ineligible' for USA Swimming Membership."