MORAGA -- Kristen Cunnane, assistant coach of the Cal women's swim team, returned to her hometown pool Monday to mentor young swimmers with a champion backstroker in tow.
Cunnane held a free swim clinic for about 100 youngsters at the Moraga Country Club, where she swam during her childhood and started her coaching career. She brought with her Cal junior Cindy Tran, the NCAA's defending women's 100-yard backstroke champion, who treated the young audience to a swimming demonstration.
"I talked about how swimming has given me so much in life, because it has," Cunnane said after the clinic, which was closed to the media. "It gave me an escape from the horrible things."
The swim clinic, originally set up by Cunnane's former coach, almost didn't happen because of Cunnane's efforts to help survivors of sexual abuse like herself. The event was temporarily canceled by the club's board President Thomas Engberg last week. The official reason for the cancellation was concerns there would be a significant amount of media coverage.
But in fact it was the cancellation that fed the media attention.
Many in the community, including club members, were outraged that Cunnane, 30, a former competitor in the U.S. Olympic trials and NCAA assistant women's swim coach of the year, was uninvited for going public with her story about being sexually abused by a Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School teacher for nearly four years in the 1990s.
The neighboring swim club rallied behind Cunnane, with some calling for a boycott of the country club. Within 24 hours, the club apologized to Cunnane, and the clinic was back on.
On Monday, Cunnane and Tran talked to the youth about the opportunities that swimming has afford each of them. Cunnane also spoke about how the Moraga County Club swim program gave her self-confidence as a kid and fostered her competitive spirit. There was no mention of her experience in overcoming childhood sexual abuse.
Afterward, Tran and Cunnane gave out Cal stickers and autographs.
"A lot of people came up to me and said we're sorry this last week has been hard," Cunnane said. "They were so welcoming and just really gracious."
Cunnane and others familiar with the situation were told the reason behind the initial cancellation was that some club members sympathized with retiring Los Perales Principal Bill Walters and did not want the country club to show support for Cunnane.
The Contra Costa Times last month published a story on Cunnane's struggles in overcoming childhood sexual abuse and her role in getting her abuser, former Joaquin Moraga teacher Julie Correa, sentenced to eight years in prison.
The Times also reported in a related story that while principal of Joaquin Moraga in 1994, Walters failed to report to police child molestation allegations against then-science teacher Dan Witters.
The newspaper began investigating the Moraga School District's handling of molestation complaints in the 1990s based on a tip from Cunnane that she was among the students in 1996 who reported being molested by Witters.
Cunnane, an eighth-grader at the time, made her report to her P.E. teacher Correa, who kept the disclosure secret and soon after began sexually abusing the 14-year-old.
Walters announced his retirement from the Moraga elementary school shortly after the district released to the newspaper the documents that showed he should have, by law, alerted police to Witters' alleged criminal activities two years before Cunnane and other girls reported being molested.
Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.