Skip to comments.Gnarly: from abuse victim, to prostitute, to surfer, to minister
Posted on 07/19/2009 4:53:35 AM PDT by NYer
A former champion surfer, Mary Setterholm suffered sexual abuse and turned to prostitution before finding a new path. Next month, shell begin the masters of divinity program at Columbia Universitys Union Theological Seminary.
Real life stories of redemption and healing don't get much better than this. How long until Lifetime turns it into a movie?
From the Los Angeles Times:
It's another beautiful day in paradise and I'm out on the ocean, riding waves with a former national surfing champion and onetime prostitute who's about to join a seminary.Read on to discover what happened next.
Go ahead, try to name one other state where I could have written that sentence.
"Terrific!" yells Mary Setterholm, my instructor, who forgives my every wipeout and cheers when I finally ride a wave all the way to shore.
Setterholm, who now runs a Santa Monica surfing school, won the U.S. Women's title in 1972, at age 17. And you're not going to believe where her trophy is:
On Cardinal Roger M. Mahony's desk.
Where do I even begin?
Perhaps with the e-mail from Ann Hayman, a minister at Brentwood Presbyterian, who remembered that I once wrote about a skid row prostitute who lived in a Porta-Potty but later turned her life around. Hayman, who worked with prostitutes for 28 years, had someone she wanted me to meet.
So I drove to Brentwood to meet Hayman and Setterholm. Over coffee -- and the next day at the beach -- Setterholm spun a tale both tragic and triumphant:
As a young child, Setterholm told me, she was physically and sexually abused repeatedly by a baby-sitter, and then beginning in seventh grade, she was molested for years by a now-deceased priest from her Catholic church in Westwood. When her family moved to the Huntington Beach area, Setterholm found herself drawn to the sea. There was honesty and security in the rhythm of the waves, but the ride to the shore was fraught with danger.
She routinely hitchhiked, and the men who picked her up -- some of them regulars -- took detours on the way to the beach. Setterholm was too damaged and confused to stop their advances, so she built a reality in which by charging them she established an illusion of control and even normalcy.
It was simple economics.
"I was so used to perverted behavior by men, I didn't know that what I was doing fit into the context of prostitution," she said.
On the water, she was a fearless acrobat, but on the shore, she kept making all the wrong moves. She got married way too young, to the wrong guy, of course, and had five children before she had learned to take care of herself. When the marriage bombed, she returned to prostitution.
This pattern of self-destruction came as no surprise to a Catholic nun who helped Setterholm find her way past buried secrets, paralyzing hatred and self-loathing.
"I know many victims who try to work it out by getting into serial relationships," said Sister Sheila McNiff, and it appeared to her that Setterholm had done precisely that, digging herself in deeper all the while.
McNiff was the victim assistance coordinator for the Los Angeles Archdiocese, serving under Mahony as the church began dealing with its scandalous history. She first heard from Setterholm in 2002, when the surf queen called to tell of the abuse she'd suffered 30 years prior.
"I asked her, 'Where can I meet you?' " McNiff recalled. "She said, 'At the beach.' "
It wasn't long before nun and surfer had formed a mutual admiration society. Setterholm wasn't looking for a financial settlement with the institution that had betrayed her. She wanted to finally look into the eyes of church leaders, tell them what she'd been through, and pray that she'd be healed.
With God, all things are possible.
Inspirational. Thanks for posting this story!
What do you know. Every now and then Mahoney gets one right.
She routinely hitchhiked, and the men who picked her up some of them regulars — took detours on the way to the beach. Setterholm was too damaged and confused.Don’t sound right?
Don’t expect clear writing from journalism school graduates.
It’s one of those majors in college for the people who cant do real math. Frequently they don’t do much else well either.
**With God, all things are possible.**
Somehow everyone knows I love that line!
Thanks for this story.
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