Local author, Hollywood actor shares impacts of sexual abuse
Former competitive diver says he suffered abuse as a teen.
John-Michael Lander has written several books in which he shares the story of abuse he says came at the hands of a coach when he was training for the Olympics. His books and a TED Talk have helped him move forward, he says.
John-Michael Lander’s head shot when he was acting in Hollywood and New York. He had regular parts on both “General Hospital” and “All My Children.”

There are more than a few famous folks who can call the Miami Valley home. From athletes to actors, many of our sons and daughters have sought fame and fortune elsewhere.

But while most of these stories have happy endings, a few had to fight through trauma to get there. John- Michael Lander held on to his personal shame for decades while rising to fame, first as an award-winning diver bound for the Olympics and then as a Hollywood actor.

“I grew up in Waynesville and went to high school there,” Lander said. “I won the gold medal at the Norway Cup for springboard diving and was shooting for a chance to go to the Olympics.”

But all the while, Lander was hiding a terrible secret.

He said he was sexually abused by a trusted leader.

“This is never supposed to happen to males, so I kept it quiet,” he said.

Lander eventually decided to go to college at the University of California, where he had a scholarship and planned to major in pre-med.

During his first year there, he discovered a passion for acting and decided to switch his major to theater.

But while in college, an abuse incident happened to him once again.

“I graduated in 1981 and was hired as a regular on General Hospital,” Lander said.

“I started hitting the pavement in Hollywood, doing plays and eventually I ended up in New York.”

Still unwilling and unable to share his personal secrets, his move to New York in 1992 gave him an opportunity for a fresh start. “I could almost pretend to be someone else when acting,” Lander said. “I didn’t have to deal with the secrets I was hiding.”

Eventually Lander became ill, which he now attributes to his own inner turmoil. When he was abused for the second time, he said it was like the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

“There was an exciting world happening all around me,” Lander said. “I was traveling the world from the age of 15 and on the outside, it looked like I had it all together.”

Even his parents were “duped” by a lawyer who assured Lander’s family he would handle setting up a coach relationship.

“They told my mom they would take care of me,” Lander said. “They would never have to worry about money or anything and since they were financially strapped, this sounded great!”

Lander eventually returned to Ohio and went to Wright State to finish his theater degree, graduating in 2001.

On the outside, his success continued, as he co-founded the JMI Talent Agency with Irene Smallwood Bosma and her husband, Marty, and eventually, became an English and musical arts teacher at Stivers School for the Arts in Dayton.

But none of this helped pull him out of turmoil from his past. Eventually the students he was teaching reminded him too much of himself at that age and he decided to step away from that career.

“I was already writing, and it was really my only therapy,” Lander said. “I was journaling everyday and that’s when I started to really unravel details in my life.”

In 2017, Lander published “Surface Tension,” a fictionalized account of his own story as teenage diving champion.

“To this day I get a lot of push back from people because I wrote this as fiction,” Lander said. “I just wasn’t ready then to take on all of that myself.”

But in 2018, a friend encouraged Lander to audition for TedXDayton and share his true story before a live audience.

He was naturally terrified, but he knew that sharing the truth about what happened would be the only way for him to move forward.

“The next thing I knew I was on that stage,” Lander said. “The embarrassment came back and the shame. I was so worried about what people who knew me would think and how it would change things.”

Indeed, things did change, not only in his relationships with others but also, with himself. From that point forward, he decided to take on the cause head on.

“In October, I will be talking about the economics of building athletes,” Lander said.

“We know from the scandal in USA Gymnastics that this happens often, to both men and women.”

His second book “Cracked Surface,” is about his time spent in Hollywood and includes the incident that happened to him at the University of California in Irvine.

The third book in the series, “Broken Surface,” picks up where the second book ends.

He is also an author of several other unrelated books and is continuing to help other victims of abuse.

“For survivors, it’s a lifelong process to recover from what happened,” Lander said.

“People think it’s over when the abuser is arrested and in jail, but it’s not. We continue to deal with what happened to us every day and I’m working to make people aware that it’s just not right. We need to talk about it.”

Lander’s books are available on Google Books.