How Michelle Simpson Tuegel Fought the Good Fight Against USA Gymnastics

D Magazine

Jan. 2020

By Kathy Wise

Michelle Simpson Tuegel was a key player in the largest settlement ever reached in a sexual abuse case involving an American university. She is also a world-champion water skier and a former capital defense attorney, having represented clients on death row. Those three things are all related, more so than you might imagine.

The eldest daughter of a trial attorney father and dental hygienist mother, Tuegel grew up in Bridgeport, Texas, a small town north of Fort Worth with a sizable lake where she spent her childhood on skis. When I met the 36-year-old attorney in the law office she opened last January, in an exposed brick loft building in Deep Ellum, she was fresh out of a four-hour ESPN interview with some of her gymnast clients. Wearing a stylish floral-print dress and heels, her fingernails painted black, she still exuded athleticism. It was easy to imagine that even at a young age she was taller than average and had that fearlessness that comes from physical confidence, thriving on speed and the challenge of staying upright on a fluid surface.

She made the junior U.S. water ski team and went pro at 15, competing around the world on the national team for six years. It’s still not an Olympic sport, but if it were, it’s a good bet she would have medaled. As it was, the U.S. Olympic Committee paid for her training and she won the collegiate national championship and the World Cup championship as an undergrad at Rollins College, in Winter Park, Florida.

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