McKeever’s bullying led to lifelong issues, more former UC Berkeley swimmers allege

McKeever’s bullying led to lifelong issues, more former UC Berkeley swimmers allege

A voice had echoed through Leann Toomey’s head for 14 years, more than half her life.

Toomey began to hear it within days of her arrival on the University of California campus in the fall of 2004 ready to fulfill her dream of swimming for the Golden Bears’ world renowned head coach Teri McKeever.

Before long, it seemed like the voice was all she heard, in person at first: McKeever berating her, bullying her, Toomey alleged. at practice, at competitions, in meetings. And then she heard it all the time — an endless 24/7 loop of McKeever’s f-bombs, body shaming, the deeply personal mocking, taunting, belittling, screaming, threatening, the soundtrack of the nightmare that kept her up most nights dreading the next morning’s practice.

Toomey heard it at the pool. She heard it and its cold indifference, Toomey said, after she was raped. She heard it when she struggled. She heard it even as she earned NCAA All-American honors. And she heard it on the way to practice or class as she wondered if she should just step in front of a bus and end it all.

“I kept thinking it would be so easy,” she said.

Leann Toomey, third from the left enjoys a moment in 2004 while at Cal. Pictured (from left to right): Bainbridge High coach Greg Colby, Helen Silver, Leann Toomey, and Emily Silver. UC Berkeley swimmers, including Toomey were introduced to Bainbridge High swimmers before a practice by the Golden Bears Thursday afternoon, Oct 1, 2004. The Silvers,Bainbridge grads, and Leann Toomey, from Holy Names Academy in Seattle, all were swimming for Cal, and competing against the University of Washington that day. (KITSAP SUN FILE PHOTO by Joe Nicholson)
Leann Toomey, third from the left enjoys a moment in 2004 while at Cal. Pictured (from left to right): Bainbridge High coach Greg Colby, Helen Silver, Leann Toomey, and Emily Silver. UC Berkeley swimmers, including Toomey were introduced to Bainbridge High swimmers before a practice by the Golden Bears Thursday afternoon, Oct 1, 2004. The Silvers,Bainbridge grads, and Leann Toomey, from Holy Names Academy in Seattle, all were swimming for Cal, and competing against the University of Washington that day. (KITSAP SUN FILE PHOTO by Joe Nicholson)

Even after Toomey left Berkeley, two time zones between her and her former coach, the voice roared on in her head, haunting her, continuing to sew doubt, continuing to make her question herself. She heard it when she struggled to develop relationships. She heard it when she faced major decisions. It sent a panic through her every time she was summoned by a boss or co-worker.

“Every time someone said, ‘Leann, I need you to stop by my office,’ my first thought was, ‘Am I about to get fired?’”

On December 5, 2018, Toomey decided she had heard enough.

So she swallowed a bottle of pills “because I wanted it to stop.”

She remembers thinking, “I’m never coming back,” and fading from consciousness, and then coming to enough to call a hospital.

The voice also survived.

“That voice that creates all this doubt in you, I named it ‘Teri,’” Toomey said. “That negative voice in my brain has her name.”

Toomey is one of 16 women who competed for the Cal women’s swimming and diving team from 1999 to 2014 who in interviews with the Southern California News Group over the past three weeks allege they were bullied on a regular basis by McKeever, one of the most successful coaches in the sport’s history.

The former swimmers and divers, their allegations corroborated by parents, former teammates, two former Cal coaches, as well as emails and university documents, provide the most complete portrait to date of the length and extent of McKeever’s alleged bullying; a nearly quarter-century of Golden Bears athletes being verbally and emotionally abused on almost a daily basis while officials at the nation’s most prestigious public university either ignored or failed to effectively act on repeated complaints and signs of misconduct.

In particular, the former athletes expressed frustration at what they describe as the university’s repeated failure to discipline or fire McKeever, which has led to years of continued verbal and emotional abuse of dozens of young women, resulting in mental health issues many of the women struggle with to this day.

“She needs to be out of the swimming world,” said Lindsey (King) Loncaric, who swam at Cal during the 2006-7 season. “I don’t care what it says on her resume. She treats people terribly.”

The former swimmers also joined the growing number of current and former Golden Bears athletes and their parents and supporters calling for the firing of Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton and senior associate AD Jennifer Simon-O’Neill, a longtime friend of McKeever’s who until recently had direct oversight of the women’s swimming and diving program.

The swimmers and divers from 1999 to 2014 are especially incensed that McKeever was allowed on the Cal pool deck for a morning practice the day after the initial SCNG report was published and a week after athletic department officials were first apprised of the allegations uncovered by the newspaper.

To date 34 current or former Cal swimmers and divers, 17 parents, a former member of the Goldens Bears’ men’s swimming and diving squad, and four former Cal athletic department employees have told the SCNG how McKeever routinely bullied swimmers, often in deeply personal terms, or used embarrassing or traumatic experiences from their past against them, used racial epithets, body shamed and pressured athletes to compete or train while injured or dealing with chronic illnesses or eating disorders, even accusing some women of lying about their conditions despite being provided medical records by them.  being provided medical records by them.

The impact of McKeever’s alleged bullying, said a woman who swam at Cal from 2006 to 2010, “is something that has lived with me and still does.

“Teri would pick on two or three swimmers every season that were her targets. And every single day, every single practice, she would do something to abuse them. I was one of those targets.”

Another former swimmer described her time swimming for McKeever as riding a “toxic roller coaster.”

In response to a SCNG report on May 24 detailing her alleged bullying of swimmers who competed for Cal from the 2013-14 season to the most recent season, the university placed McKeever, the 2012 U.S. Olympic women’s team head coach, on paid administrative leave, and commissioned a Los Angeles-based law firm to conduct an investigation into the allegations. The probe will be overseen by the school’s human resources office.

The U.S. Center for SafeSport also launched an investigation of McKeever following the initial SCNG reports.

USA Swimming, the sport’s national governing body, was made aware of allegations of McKeever’s bullying in 2015 but named her to the 2019 World Championships coaching staff and that same year elected her as chair of the organization’s national team steering committee and its representative on USA Swimming’s board of directors.

McKeever, contacted by telephone Thursday, declined to comment.

“Sorry, I’m not going to be able to speak to you,” she said.

Current and former Cal swimmers and their parents said they are skeptical about both the university commissioned and U.S. Center for SafeSport investigations. Interviews and documents obtained by SCNG show that swimmers and their parents repeatedly complained to athletic department and university officials from as early as at least 2010. Those complaints were either ignored or resulted in McKeever being reminded of university policies, according to the swimmers, their parents and Cal documents.

Then Cal chancellor Robert Joseph Birgeneau and Sandy Barbour, the school’s athletic director at the time, were made aware in 2010 of verbal abuse and harassment allegations against McKeever dating back to 2001, according to letters and emails. In a Jan. 13, 2010 letter to Birgeneau, Jenna Rais, who swam for Cal between 2001 and 2005, said she was verbally abused by McKeever. Neither Birgeneau nor anyone in his office responded to her complaints about McKeever, Rais said.

University of California, Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau smiles during a news conference in 2011 in Berkeley. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)
University of California, Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau smiles during a news conference in 2011 in Berkeley. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

Dan Mogulof, Cal’s assistant vice chancellor said the university was unable to comment for this report because of “stringent laws and campus policies” regarding personnel, privacy and due process.

“We can only reiterate our deep concern about what our student athletes are reporting,” Mogulof said. “Nothing is more important to the university than the safety and well being of our students and it is that commitment that is guiding and informing how we are responding to all that is being reported.

“An investigation is now being conducted into these serious and disturbing allegations that” are “antithetical to our values and policies.”

Sophia Batchelor, who was an NCAA qualifier for Cal during the 2013-2014 season and swam for New Zealand at two World Championships, recalled setting up a meeting with Simon-O’Neill in October 2014 to discuss McKeever’s alleged bullying of the swimmer, according to Batchelor and a series of emails related to the meeting.

Three former Cal swimmers have confirmed that Batchelor was a regular target of McKeever’s bullying.

“It was at Jenny’s office, I didn’t know Teri was going to be there,” Batchelor said of the meeting. “They were both there already when I arrived

“It was like I was talking to a stone wall. Teri spoke in the meeting more than Jenny did. I ask in an email (to Simon O’Neill and another athletic department employee) if there was anything I needed to prepare or bring, and early on I asked if I could have someone else in the meeting with me. They said no.

“Teri raise her voice several times and said that I always had an excuse and that she didn’t think anything I said was true.

“Teri went off at me directly during the meeting. I spent a lot of it crying.”

Batchelor transferred to Florida.

Since the first SCNG report May 24, the university has shifted direct supervision of the women’s swimming program from Simon-O’Neill to two other athletic department officials, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The Cal swimmers from the 1999-2014 period said their time with McKeever has left them with deep scars, both physically and mentally. Several said they are unable to pick up their children or exercise because of the long term effects of injuries McKeever pressured them to train or compete through. Many of the former swimmers acknowledged that they continue to suffer from eating disorders or anxiety and depression related to their time at Cal. Most said they have spent thousands of dollars on years of therapy.

Many of the women said they no longer follow a sport that was once their obsession, or that they are unable to watch it on television during the Olympic Games because of the painful memories viewing would trigger. Very few of the women have swam since leaving Berkeley.

“Teri ruined the sport for me,” said a woman, who swam for Cal between 2000 and 2002. “I haven’t swam for 20 years.”

Among a number of common themes that emerge from the interviews is the belief held by almost all of the women when they left Cal that they, not McKeever, were the problem. It has taken them years, the women said, to come to the realization that they were in fact victims of abuse, some of them saying they did not reach that conclusion until reading the first SCNG report on McKeever.

“For years I thought I was the problem,” Loncaric said. “I was the failure. I made excuses for her. No, I was not the problem and it took me years to realize that.

“Teri puts you in such a dark place. She really crushed me and crushed me for a long time.”

McKeever promised the women during their recruitment that her door would always be open to them if they came to Cal, the swimmers and their parents said.

Instead, the former swimmers said, she rarely, if ever, offered them encouragement or guidance.

“There’s a lot of gaslighting,” said an All-American who swam for Cal in the 2000s. “Teri always said during recruiting you can come talk to me anytime and then you get there and she’s screaming at you all the time.

Several of the women recalled being berated by McKeever when they asked her for technical or training advice.

Loncaric recalled struggling with her stroke as a freshman and approaching McKeever for her insight.

“She said I didn’t deserve to have her opinion about my stroke,” Loncaric said. “Basically, I hadn’t earned the right to have her opinion. Honestly from then on, I became a target. It was, ‘How dare you talk to me?’ Instead of a grace period, she tore into me.”


Instead of offering support to Cal swimmers who were facing academic, housing, financial or family issues, McKeever encouraged the athletes to speak with Mohamed Muqtar, Cal’s assistant athletic director for student services, the swimmers and their parents said.

Muqtar in turn used their vulnerability to sexually harass them, according to allegations from swimmers, complaints to university officials, a school investigation and court filings.

“Teri always said go to Mo if you have a problem,” said Erin (Calder) Coffman, an NCAA qualifier who swam at Cal from 2001-2005.

Muqtar, the swimmers said, regularly watched the team practice from either a window above the pool or on the actual pool deck where he seemed to have access before, during and after training.

The former swimmers said Muqtar became a willing sounding board or shoulder to cry on for athletes allegedly bullied and abused by McKeever.

“He would come on the pool deck multiple times a week,” said a former Golden Bears All-American, who swam from 2000 to 2003. “He always made us think he was your best friend.”

A woman who swam at Cal in 1999-2000 said Muqtar “preyed on those who were vulnerable.”

“He positioned himself as this ‘I’m here to help, here to listen’ and then he would encourage you to talk about sexual experiences and he would want you to be very graphic, very descriptive,” the woman continued. “He would call me on the phone and ask me to be descriptive and I could hear his breathing on the phone. But it was always in this, ‘I’m here for you, I care about you.’”

One of those vulnerable athletes was Cindy Tran, who uses the pronouns they/them, a six-time NCAA champion who swam for Cal from the 2010-11 to 2013-14 seasons. Tran said McKeever’s alleged bullying also helped push them to the brink of suicide in 2014.

“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.”

Despite the athletic success, Tran was on less than a half a full-ride scholarship at Cal and often struggled financially while a student.

“When you’re having to cut expenses, the first thing you cut is food,” Tran said. “Mo would complain about Teri to us and he would listen. Mo gave me food. He gave me attention. He gave me clothes, stuff, food, money.”

But Muqtar also became increasingly inappropriate during their visits about McKeever, Tran said.

“He closed the door to his office and kissed me on the cheek,” Tran said. “It escalated to him asking me very personal questions about my sex life. And then he was trying to kiss me on the lips.”

Tran said Muqtar kissed her multiple times.

“I was so manipulated,” Tran said. “I was in such a dark place in my life.”

Muqtar was fired in May 2018 for violating the university’s sexual violence and sexual harassment policy. His removal came three months after a former Cal women’s basketball player filed a lawsuit against the University of California board of regents alleging she was sexually assaulted by Muqtar. The firing also came eight years after Rais reported Muqtar to Birgeneau, the school’s chancellor, then Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour and other university officials.

Did McKeever know about Muqtar’s sexual misconduct toward Cal swimmers?

“She should have. Did she? I don’t know,” said the All-American who swam from 2000 to 2003. “The fact is that he did come down to the pool all the time and talked to swimmers in their bathing suits.”

Muqtar did not respond to requests for comment.


Cal swimmers and divers were never really sure what would trigger McKeever’s abusive outbursts. They just knew they were coming.

“Active persecution,” said an NCAA qualifier who swam for Cal from 2008-2012.

Sometimes it was injuries that would set McKeever off.

A former Golden Bears diver recalled waking up with a 103-degree temperature the morning of the 2012 Pac-12 Championships 3-meter competition.

“I was severely dehydrated, hadn’t slept and couldn’t walk straight when I got up to compete,” the diver recalled in an email. “Went to see Cal’s trainer who had traveled to the competition with us. He advised me and all coaches that I should not be competing. Teri yelled at me, accusing me of abusing (over the counter) cold medicine to get out of diving. She then informed me that if I didn’t compete, I would be off the team, and that the team needed me to compete even to get last place and get only 1 point as it could be the difference in winning the title.

“You can likely guess what I ‘chose’ (all while the Cal trainer stood by, ignored his own medical advice, and let it happen). Cal won by far more than 1 point that year and this was all for nothing. Meanwhile, Teri bullied me into something extremely dangerous, where I failed a dive for my own safety and needed help getting out of the pool.

“I also embarrassed myself in front of all of my teammates, fellow competitors and other coaches.

“I was honestly Teri’s favorite diver — until I got hurt. Then it felt like I wasn’t even a human to her anymore.”

A woman who swam for Cal from 1999 to 2001 was told by a Cal orthopedist that she could no longer swim because of a major shoulder injury. She would have to retire, the doctor said. The swimmer told McKeever of the doctor’s decision.

“And then Teri goes right into a team meeting and tells the whole team I’m quitting,” the swimmer said. “Teri threw me under the bus. Lied to the whole team.”

Sometimes it was a rough practice or bad race.

A swimmer on the 2009-10 team struggled in her first race at the 2010 Pac-10 meet. She was barely out of the water when McKeever confronted her.

“It was horrible,” the swimmer said. “She was screaming at me on the pool deck. I was an embarrassment to the team. ‘I’m mortified you are representing the team.’”

Later the swimmer’s mother, concerned about her daughter’s welfare, approached her as the team boarded a bus.

“My mom just wanted to give me a quick hug as we were getting on the bus,” the swimmer said, “but Teri pushed me forward away from her so my mom couldn’t hug me. As she was doing it Teri said, ‘Grow up (the swimmer’s name).’”

And “sometimes,” said a Cal standout from the mid 2000s, “it was the look on your face. Teri just didn’t like the look on your face.”

Almost always the swearing, the screaming, the berating and the bullying took place in public.

In front of teammates.

In front of other teams and coaches.

“Teri would scream in team meetings to wipe that (expletive) look off your face,” said Taylor Young, a member of the 2013-14 team. “Teri liked to target people for the fun of it.”

Dozens of former Cal swimmers, divers and their parents said McKeever seemed to thrive on publicly humiliating or shaming athletes.

“I think she gets a high from that,” said the swimmer on the 2009-10 team.

“Oh, yeah,” Coffman agreed. “One-hundred percent, 100 percent. When you were on the receiving end of it, you could tell she was relieved she was ripping you for something.”

Said a member of the 2001-02 Cal squad, “(McKeever) took delight in it. There’s a pecking order and she’s the alpha dog and she has to constantly reinforce that.”

On multiple occasions, that reinforcement included unwanted physical contact, swimmers said. Five former Cal swimmers from the 1999 to 2014 period alleged McKeever physically grabbed and forcefully pulled them out of the pool or along the pool deck during episodes in which she berated them.

“If she was mad, she would grab your arm really tight and dig her nails into you and pull you,” said the NCAA qualifier from the 2008 to 2012 teams. “And it wasn’t just the physical touching. It was physical and it was her way of getting up in your face and screaming at you. I’d never been in a situation like that. She was screaming so hard that she was actually spitting in my face a number of times.”


“With Teri, one of her biggest strengths is she sees what makes you tick and is a mastermind at figuring out how to use and find your weak spot, and she uses it over and over and over,” said the swimmer from the 2009-10 team.

All 16 swimmers and divers from the 1999 to 2014 period said it was during team retreats away from campus, presented by the coach and her assistants as “team building exercises,” that McKeever learned what buttons to push.

More than a dozen swimmers and divers said the retreats made them feel as if they were joining a cult and the former athletes and their parents repeatedly referred to the Cal program in interviews as a “cult.”

“A toxic cult,” said a Cal swimmer from the 2000s.

“Teri is big on team bonding,” said the woman who swam for Cal from 2006 to 2010. “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.”

Women recalled being pressured to share deeply personal secrets — past sexual experiences, sexual orientation, traumatic losses, embarrassing moments, chronic illnesses, eating disorders — over three days in front of their coaches and teammates, some of whom they had just met. At one retreat McKeever was present as the athletes were asked if they had been sexually assaulted, recalled two swimmers.

“It’s six, seven hours a day of being really pressured to share your deepest, darkest secrets and fears,” said a swimmer on the 2009-10 team.

The NCAA qualifier from the 2009 to 2012 teams recalled swimmers being required at a retreat to hold a piece of tape listing their biggest fault and being asked to “stand up in front of the rest of the team.”

If McKeever or her assistants thought athletes were not sharing their most personal secrets, the coaches and other swimmers would pressure the women to reveal even deeper experiences or fears. Several women said they created false stories just to stop McKeever and their teammates from pressuring them.

“The more traumatic your experience was, the more well received you were by Teri,” a swimmer said. “You felt pressure to show emotion and cry because everybody else was crying. The pressure to please Teri was so intense that I made up a lie.”

Said the NCAA qualifier, “You had to tell her really distressing personal things. You felt a lot of pressure to tell Teri something is wrong with you and she would definitely exploit any personal insecurities.

“What were your hopes and dreams? What were your biggest fears? What were your biggest flaws? And she used that later to pick you apart at her convenience.”

McKeever seemingly missed nothing during the retreats.

The NCAA qualifier recalled being approached by older teammates after the first session of her first retreat.”They said, ‘Teri said you need to fix your posture and your face,’” the former swimmer said. “‘Teri doesn’t think you look engaged enough.’

“What does that mean? Fix your face, fix your posture?”

Three swimmers remember one particular “team building” exercise in the late 2000s that captured the trauma and fear present at the retreats.

Swimmers were 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,” the 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.”

Another retreat eight years earlier would leave Cal swimmers with similar feelings.


On the morning of September 11, 2001, Cal swimmers climbed out of the pool after the first of two scheduled practices that day to learn that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City. Another had struck the Pentagon.

As details of the terrorist attacks emerged, swimmers scrambled to find the whereabouts of family and friends. One swimmer’s mother was a flight attendant based out of New York City. Another athlete’s father was flying back to the East Coast after visiting his daughter in Berkeley. Katherine McAdoo, a sophomore from Alexandria, Virginia, grew up not far from the Pentagon.

“My parents had friends who worked at Pentagon,” she said. “I had friends whose parents worked at Pentagon.”

McAdoo’s mother was walking on the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, Virginia when American Flight 77 flew right above her in the final 1 1/2 miles before it crashed into the Pentagon.

“My mom ducked when it flew over,” McAdoo said.

But instead of empathizing with their concerns, McKeever made sure the swimmers’ focus was on training and team building and not the largest terrorist attack on American soil in the nation’s history, the women said.

“We were not allowed to call our friends or family or watch the news during the biggest event in our country,” said a two-time All-American from the East Coast. “9/11 has always stuck with me. When I think of 9/11 that’s what I think of and the lack of caring about current events and the swimmer’s (mental health).”

The team practiced again that afternoon, and then within hours, they were driven to Lake Tahoe for a previously scheduled team retreat. The swimmers could not use their cell phones or laptops. Their sole focus during the retreat, McKeever told the team, was to be on swimming.

“I felt like a toddler. I really did,” said the All-American. “There was really no space for us to deal with it. It was very bizarre, very hurtful.

“We were completely isolated, basically closed off from the world. It was soul crushing to be stuck in a cabin the whole time with a major event in the world going on and you’re closed off from the rest of the world.

“With the way she treated 9/11 it really showed just how cold this woman really is.”

For McAdoo, the week of 9/11 was a sign of things to come with McKeever.

“That whole grieving experience the nation was going through, we didn’t get to go through,” she said. “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 in if you’re going to swim for Teri, you have to learn how to shut down your feelings.”

A dozen years later Taylor Young’s body shut down before her emotions did.


Like Toomey, McKeever continued to live in Young’s head even after she left Berkeley.

“The fear of her is really strong,” Young said of McKeever.

“I lived in a constant state of flight or fight. I think a lot of us did, in a state of constant stress, 100 percent fear, 100 percent of the time.”

That stress had been ever-present since Cal’s pre-season team retreat and into the school year when Young said she was a frequent target of McKeever’s bullying. Then late in 2013, Young’s health began to rapidly decline.

“The stress of it all, the stress of Teri,” Young said, “triggered an autoimmune disease.”

Young was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system creates antibodies that attack thyroid cells as if they were bacteria, viruses or some other foreign body, wrongly enlisting disease-fighting agents that damage cells and lead to cell death.

The 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 that doctors told her that the disorder was triggered in an otherwise healthy teenager by the stress she was experiencing swimming at Cal.  

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

She stopped menstruating. She gained weight quickly. She suffered from brain fog, anxiety and depression. Sometimes she had hot flashes. Sometimes she felt like she was freezing.

“There were times when I couldn’t get warm. My body was literally freaking out even though I was under sheets and blankets,” Young said.

“The brain fog was terrible. The anxiety was horrible. I had no energy.”

While three teammates recalled Young struggling physically and emotionally, Young said McKeever showed no empathy and offered no support.

“Teri never inquired about my health even though it was clear I was ill,” Young said.

More fearful of McKeever’s grade than poor grades, Young said she stopped going to class.

“I would sleep between practice,” she said. “All I could do was sleep. I was in survival mode. I would swim at practice and then do nothing so I could survive the next practice. So all I did was sleep, but I didn’t want to sleep because I’d wake up and have to go to practice. And I had just a terrible dread of waking up, it was insane. Waking up was the most horrible thing knowing I had to go to practice and face her.

“The stress was just all consuming.”

In February 2014, Young broke her foot while running on a team trip.

“I was too afraid to say anything to Teri,” she said.

At the next practice, Young tried swimming.

“But I could only swim for a few laps because it hurt so bad in the water,” she said. “I had to say something.”

Young told McKeever about the injury, which was obvious given the state of her swollen foot, and asked if she could do a limited work-out.

“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.”

Young, her foot in a boot per doctor’s order, stopped going to practice after McKeever’s ultimatum.

“I felt like I was in this weird limbo of not practicing but still feeling just trapped by her,” Young said. “I’m glad I broke my foot because it gave me a way out, a tiny bit of breathing room to realize I needed to leave.”

But to transfer Young needed McKeever to release her and that meant meeting with the coach.

“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.’”

Young said she was uncertain why McKeever felt mistreated.

She transferred to a junior college before finishing her freshman year and then went to San Diego State, where she resumed her swimming career.

“I had hesitations about talking about this,” she said, “and the fear (of McKeever) is still there even after eight years. It’s that intense. But I’m so glad this is getting exposed. It’s insane. It’s insane that this is what your university experience is like.”


By the time Leann Toomey arrived in Berkeley in the summer of 2004, she had already competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials. She would go to earn All-American honors as a freshman and sophomore at Cal and establish herself as the Golden Bears’ top athlete in the 100 butterfly.

But McKeever, Toomey, her mother Lisa and a former teammate said, sensed a weakness in Toomey and targeted her for almost daily bullying early in her freshman year. When McKeever wasn’t swearing at Toomey or kicking her out of practice, she was ignoring her, Toomey, her mother and the teammate said.

“In October she really started singling me out,” Toomey said. “‘You never really deserved to be on the team.’ She would kick me out of practice for not doing a flip turn properly. It didn’t matter that 20 minutes earlier I was the only one of the team who did an exercise properly.”

Toomey suffers from sleep apnea causing her to snore loudly.

“And Teri would make so much fun of me for that all the time,” Toomey said.

Because she was clearly on what Cal swimmers referred to as McKeever’s “(expletive) list” most of her teammates avoided her, fearing that being seen by the coach or her staff as socializing or being supportive of Toomey would land them on the list as well.

“I felt so isolated,” Toomey said. “If I don’t trust my coach, who can I trust? That started the gaslighting by Teri. She’s really, really good at twisting your own version of reality around on you.”

Shortly after McKeever began bullying Toomey, she was raped at a fraternity party, according to Toomey, her mother and a teammate. Toomey received medical treatment following the incident from University  Health Services, which reported the alleged rape to law enforcement, Toomey said. She said she also informed the school’s athletic training staff who in turn told McKeever of the rape.

McKeever offered no support or comfort, Toomey said.

“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.”

Lisa Toomey said she received a similar response when she met with McKeever after flying from the family’s Seattle-area home to the Bay Area the day after the alleged rape.

“Teri sat through that meeting with us like we were just a pain in the ass for her,” Lisa Toomey said. “She’s talking about Leann is so hard to coach and so difficult. I couldn’t believe after such a traumatic event the lack of support and empathy Teri had was shocking.

“(McKeever) just really said nothing about the rape. She really acted like we were a bother. She kept talking about how Leann was difficult to coach. ‘I don’t know how to coach her.’ My daughter has this huge drama and Teri is blaming her because she can’t coach her?

“We’re talking about a freshman and her world has just been turned upside down and Teri just has this blank, flat reaction and complains that she doesn’t know how to coach her.”

Unsatisfied with McKeever’s response, Lisa Toomey said she contacted John Cummins, an associate chancellor to whom the Cal athletic department reported. Cummins, Lisa Toomey said, told her there were three options: Report the rape to the police, report the alleged rapist to a student court or do nothing. A court case or hearing would “likely traumatize” Leann Toomey, Lisa Toomey recalled Cummins saying.

Cummins did not respond to a request for comment.

The family decided not to pursue the case.

The bullying by McKeever continued, the Toomeys and the teammate said.

Sometimes she would get a heads up from Muqtar on her way to the pool.

“‘Teri’s in one of her moods’ and I would think ‘oh, (expletive),’” she recalled. “I hope I just get hit by a bus on my way to practice.”

“By December,” Leann Toomey said. “I was alienated. I was alone. I was absolutely alone.”

Toomey, however, continued to swim for Cal at a high level until she said McKeever went off on her after a poor race at the Janet Evans Invitational at USC in July 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?’

“That’s (expletive) up.

“I told her I’m never coming back.”

Toomey’s swimming career at Cal was done.


Throughout the interviews, the lack of connection the women feel for Cal and the women’s swimming program is unmistakable. All 16 of the former swimmers and divers said they have purposely tried to distance themselves from the program. Very few of the women stay in touch with former teammates.

“There’s no connection between us because none of us want to relive what we went through,” a swimmer said.

But while a majority of the women said they have avoided returning to Berkeley, they also acknowledge an inability to shake the memories of McKeever, and the impact she continues to have on their lives to this day.

Coffman’s memory of being shunned by McKeever after qualifying for the NCAA Championships still remains fresh two decades later.

“It was the happiest moment of my life,” Coffman said, recalling how she stood near McKeever at the meet waiting to talk to her, but not wanting to interrupt the coach’s conversations with other coaches. “I waited 30 minutes. She never said a word.

“I remember making cookies, bear cookies for the coaches. Teri would rip me up and I’d turn around and make her cookies just to gain that love, that compassion, that attention.

“I’m still hesitant to make relationships with people because I’m afraid that they’re going to use and abuse you and it all goes back to Teri.”

And so they try to heal in their own ways, still isolated, still questioning themselves, their memories, their trauma preventing so many of them from returning to the place where they had once been their strongest, their most hopeful; from healing in the very waters that once empowered them.

“I can’t even get in the pool anymore,” Toomey said, “without hearing her voice in my head.”

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 1-800-273-8255, visit the website at


UC Berkeley swimmers allege coach Teri McKeever bullied and verbally abused them for years

UC Berkeley swimmers walk out on coach Teri McKeever after reports of abuse, bullying

UC Berkeley places swim coach Teri McKeever on administrative leave

UC Berkeley AD: Teri McKeever investigation could take 6 months

Ex-UC Berkeley swimmer on McKeever: ‘I honestly didn’t know how far she would go’

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