Former star runner: Coaches created a toxic culture

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Kristen Gecewicz-Gunning was one of the most formidable high school cross-country runners in New York state during the 1980s, accumulating multiple Suburban Council and Sectional titles, placing high in state championships, and eventually earning a Division 1 track scholarship to Fordham University.

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Despite her success, when she looks back at what should have been her glory days, she sees something much less glorious.

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“We ran all the time,” she said. “We couldn’t talk to people. We had to eat certain things, and you just didn’t have a say in anything. You had to look outside yourself for all answers to them, and systematically they started isolating us from friends and family, doctors, medical professionals.”

Gecewicz-Gunning painted a disturbing picture of a cross-country program she claims was riddled with abuse, bullying, and manipulation orchestrated by the coaches, something that ultimately created a toxic culture, something that has existed for more than three decades.

“I expect people (to ask me why I didn’t quit),” Gecewicz-Gunning said. “My mom wanted me to quit, but my dad was a runner and so everybody buys into this dream and these promises and you kind of balance: I guess I’ll put up with the abuse because I really want to run in college, and they promise scholarships.”

Gecewicz-Gunning knows of teammates and other SSHS alumna who have experienced eating disorders, fertility problems, psychologist visits, and other lingering emotional distress. More than three decades after her running career ended, her crusade to change the culture continues.

“I’m in a place in my life now where it took me this long to heal from this,” she said. “I’m at a place where I’m not afraid, and I really want to help other women and men that were subjected to this and the current athletes and for future athletes who could be abused by them.”

Gecewicz-Gunning is one of at least 17 former student/athletes or parents who have given sworn depositions included in a 77-page letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul, Attorney General Letitia James, and other state officials urging them to investigate one of the most revered high school cross-country programs in the country.

Gecewicz-Gunning insists she’s not looking for any money. She just wants to “change the culture.”

NewsChannel 13 reached out to the coaches named in the depositions. By air time on Thursday we hadn’t heard back from them.