Sydney Wetterstrom
Sydney Wetterstrom (Courtesy photo)

Resources for victims of sexual assault

These Boulder County organizations offer assistance to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence:

Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence (Boulder):

24 Hour Hotline: 303-444-2424

Office: 303-449-8623

Safe Shelter of St. Vrain Valley (Longmont):

24 Hour Hotline: 303-772-4422

Office: 303-772.0432

CU Boulder Office of Victim Assistance

303-492-8855

assist@colorado.edu

Moving to End Sexual Assault

24 hour Rape Crisis and Information Hotline

303-443-7300

Resources for suicide prevention

These federal and state resources for people considering suicide are available 24 hours daily:

National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Colorado Crisis Services: 1-844-493-8255

If the past could be unwritten and her sexual assault could be erased, Sydney Wetterstrom wouldn't feel compelled to tell a story she wishes she could just forget.

At the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Longmont High School alumna double majors in Spanish and applied exercise science and plays volleyball for a team fresh off a remarkable run to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.

It's the kind of resume a smart and athletic 20-year-old like Wetterstrom should be able to revel in. Instead, the message she feels she needs to share now is that of a rape survivor.


Advertisement

From the horror she reported enduring in the early morning hours of Oct. 7, 2018, to the mental torment that nearly led her to take her own life, Wetterstrom's story of sexual assault eventually brought her to fellow-survivor Sam Roy. And in spite of being linked together by awful circumstances, Wetterstrom and the gymnast-turned-student assistant coach at Michigan have come together to help others like them.

The two women co-founded Student-Athlete Sexual Health, a support group for student-athletes at Michigan who are sexual assault survivors or who have been closely impacted by it. The group, which has been accredited by the university, had its first meeting Feb. 13.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, sexual assault continues to be an epidemic around the country, especially on college campuses. One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped in their lives, the center finds. And on college campuses, attacks are even more rampant as 20 to 25 percent of women and 15 percent of men are victims of forced sex, the center's statistics show.

"I wanted to take this event in my life and make some good out of it," Wetterstrom said.

It's a passion submerged in pain

The night whose memory still makes her voice tremble happened after a night out with friends at a club called the Study Hall Lounge. The junior light-heartedly joked about how college students could tell their parents they were headed to the Study Hall Lounge with no guilt.

On her walk home that night, Wetterstrom said she was alone until a man she didn't know started following her. She said the man approached her, groped her, walked into her unlocked house before her, and raped her.

She said she followed the stranger into her house, worried that her college roommates might be home and now unsafe with this man inside. Fear froze her after that.

"I became frozen and begged to not have sex or anything, but I couldn't move," Wetterstrom said. "And he was able to undress me. He was able to enter my body with me not wanting him."

The Daily Camera's December request to the Ann Arbor Police Department for the police report was denied on Jan. 15, citing its open investigation.

Wetterstrom said the first person she told about what happened was junior volleyball teammate Elliott Brooks, who was out with Wetterstrom at the club that night.

Brooks, who was stunned to hear her account the next morning, confirmed Wetterstrom's account of the story to the Daily Camera.

From there, it was a blur of emotion and fear

Longmont High School’s Sydney Wetterstrom tips the ball over the net against Ponderosa’s Allison Smith at the state volleyball championships in
Longmont High School's Sydney Wetterstrom tips the ball over the net against Ponderosa's Allison Smith at the state volleyball championships in November 2015 at the Denver Coliseum. Wetterstrom, now a junior at the University of Michigan, has formed a support group for Michigan students who are fellow survivors of sexual assault. (David R. Jennings / Staff Photographer)

With the attacker's face burned in her memory, Wetterstrom suffered a series of panic attacks — most notably at a road volleyball game at Maryland University and also on the way home at the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. It was one trigger, a heckler who made sexual comments toward her teammates at the volleyball match, after another, direction from her male volleyball coaches. Men were at the center of both incidents.

"I generalized all men," Wetterstrom said. "It just brought back extreme, intense memories of the assault and I had to relive it.

"I had not been looking at (Wolverines coach Mark Rosen) and he came to give some specific information on how to improve this technique and stuff like that, and I was looking down," she said. "I couldn't look at him. And I felt so terrible that I was being so disrespectful to him.

"I felt terrible that this was happening and that my life had shifted so much that not only my sanity, my sleep and my academics were going to be put on hold, but it was holding me back from doing what I loved, which was volleyball."

What was left of her felt broken. Worst of all, Wetterstrom wound up in the hospital after trying to take her own life on Oct. 16.

"I felt the man who assaulted me had taken so much away from me and I kind of snapped," she said.

Wetterstrom said she spent a week in various hospitals in Michigan. She took part in therapy and received support from loved ones, including former teammate Claire Kieffer-Wright, who regularly visited her.

"She has definitely been my rock, like my sister," Wetterstrom said of Kieffer-Wright. "She really gave me a perspective of what I wanted to do. A perspective on life — like how there are still good people in the world and there's people who still give love. And innately everyone wants to do the right thing, and it's pain that causes harm and pain that causes people to act out."

Wetterstrom spent more time working on her recovery after leaving the hospital. She was cleared to practice with her teammates Nov. 2 and said she returned to game play at Michigan State on Nov. 17. According to the school's athletic site, she recorded stats on the court for the first time in over a month against Northwestern on Nov. 21. The Wolverines eventually went on a late-season run all the way to the NCAA's Sweet 16.

"Once she started to get back and get healthier, and started seeing a therapist again, she started emulating strength and just really wanting to turn things around for herself and help others," Kieffer-Wright said.

In hopes of reaching out to other survivors and showing them they're not alone, Wetterstrom disclosed her account of the attack and its aftermath in detail to the Daily Camera. She first made her story public by means of an Oct. 23 Instagram post. There, she wrote:

"You entered my home. You entered my mind. You entered my body. You took my comfort, my strength and my pride. In return you gave me fear and silence. I am a victim of rape with a suicide attempt as a byproduct. I am taking back my strength, my control and my voice.

"If a silver lining can come from this traumatic event, I wish that others can regain their power knowing that they are not alone. The power to speak out.

"Letting it be known that our bodies are not for others without consent. Letting it be known that those who feel the need to force themselves on another person to obtain affection is caused by a lack of love. Hate will not block out hate. Therefore, in order to make the world a better place we need to love. #womenwhosurvivethrive".

The post garnered reaction from hundreds of supporters, including Roy, who reached out on the social media site to meet with Wetterstrom. Over coffee, the two quickly discovered they had more in common than they would have wished.

Their bond grew strong, nevertheless

As for the support group, Wetterstrom said as part of her treatment, she wrote her thoughts and goals in a journal given to her by Kieffer-Wright. One passage in particular detailed her goal of setting up a group for sexual assault survivors.

In fate, the idea landed home with Roy, who said she also thought about starting a support group.

"And we were off from there," Wetterstrom said.

The two devised a plan over the next month. They sent their proposal to Abigail Eiler, a clinical social worker and the assistant director of athletic counseling at the school. She helped finalize it and eventually took it to the athletic counseling department, which approved the group.

The group is expected to meet bi-weekly in an effort to empower its members and to teach healing techniques.

"The overarching thing we really want people to know is you're not alone in this situation," Roy said. "You're not alone and we're here to help. And we're here to help each other."

Counselors also will be present at every meeting to provide education on the effects of trauma and the path to mental wellness.

Wetterstrom said she has been sexually assaulted twice while at the University of Michigan. The first attack happened during her freshman year in the dorms, but she did not report it. Wetterstrom and Roy created the group for student-athletes, believing they are targets for this crime.

"I have to say for athletes we definitely have a target on our back," Wetterstrom said. "Because we're taller, we're stronger, we kind of like have that brand on us. And it's definitely attractive to some people and it's kind of a status."

Wetterstrom offered advice to all sexual assault survivors: "Don't let it break you."

"Don't let anyone take something away from you," she said. "No one asked for it. Nothing about it was your fault. You're stronger than you will ever know."

Brent W. New; bwnew@prairiemountainmedia.com or @brentwnew