Two victims of former Canadian National ski coach, Bertrand Charest, are calling for sweeping changes to end sexual abuse in sport and were in the city on Friday to share their stories with Calgarians.

Former professional skiers Genevieve Simard and Amelie-Frederique Gagnon are among several women who were sexually assaulted by Charest.

They attended a special news conference at the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre and are urging the government to act and create a safe environment for athletes in all sports.

Simard and Gagnon say Charest crushed their self-esteem and that they suffered from a lack of confidence, depression and felt shame and humiliation for years after they were sexually abused.

“It’s affected our lives. Some dreams were never accomplished because we had this predator that came into our lives. Good thing he’s in jail now, for a very long time, so that’s been really gratifying,” said Simard.

The two women are advocating for a protection program that includes mandatory training for all coaches, volunteers, and everyone in the entourage of an athlete.

“The reason we wanted to come out in the public eye on Monday and give our press conference is to give the biggest impact possible to put a face on the twelve of us and what has happened and we want to create awareness to everybody in the country because we want to ensure that safe, that sports become safe for our children, for the next generation and that’s why we’re doing this. We want to take this horrible chapter in our lives and we want to turn it into something positive and that’s making sure these kinds of abuse never happen again and we need the government in helping us achieve that,” said Simard.

They also want to see the mandatory use of a buddy system so that an adult is never left alone with a child athlete for an extended period of time and are calling for the creation of an independent officer to deal with incidents that arise.

“Coming forward can help stop the cycle of abuse,” said Dr. Sarah MacDonald, Forensic Interviewer, Sheldon Kennedy CAC. “It’s important for victims to come forward for their own wellbeing. Abuse can have long-lasting effects that can differ from person to person.”

Sheldon Kennedy is the co-founder of the Respect Group and a board member of the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre.

He was sexually assaulted as a teenager by his hockey coach Graham James and has become the unofficial spokesperson for abuse survivors in Canada and around the world.

Kennedy says abuse survivors can feel very alone and that he admires the courage of the women who came forward to talk about the abuse they suffered at the hands of Charest.

“I have witnessed the courage of twelve ladies that have told their story of the abuse they suffered from their coach for the last week and they’re making their way across the country and we thought, you know what, we needed to honour their courage and we needed to honour the platform that they are pushing and I think that our collective goal from people that I see in the room, that work in this area, is about making sure that we keep sport as safe as we can and the best experience that we can and there has been work done and there is more work that needs to be done,” said Kennedy. “Today we realized we’re not alone, there’s a lot of people pulling on the rope.”

Simard says she read Kennedy’s book and that it inspired her and gave her the strength to also speak out.

“All the support we’ve had has been amazing,” said Simard. “Meeting him, I am so thankful for what he did back then, it gave me courage to do what we did.”

 J.D. Miller, the President and Co-founder of B2Ten, has accompanied the two ladies this week as they made their way across the country to tell their story.

“This has been a very difficult week. Watching the victims come forward and as Sheldon mentioned, display enormous courage in order that they can tell their stories, tell the most intimate details of what has taken place and how they have suffered so that others don’t have to suffer going forward. They are an inspiration to B2Ten, they are an inspiration to myself and I think they are an inspiration to our country,” said Miller.

“I’m so touched by all the support we got this week and the messages and the love,” said Gagnon. “We will always be grateful for what you helped us to do. And just today, we looked around and it’s incredible what people are doing to make changes and help kids.”

Charest, 53, was found guilty last June of 37 of the 57 sex-related charges he was facing, and was eventually given a 12-year prison term.