A former Northern Virginia swim coach whose club has produced six Olympians was sentenced Thursday to seven years in prison for sexually abusing a girl whom he coached in the 1980s.

Rick Curl, 63, pleaded guilty in February and was sentenced in Montgomery County Circuit Court. The conviction stems from Curl's inappropriate relationship with Kelley Davies Currin, now 43.

In issuing the sentence, Judge Marielsa Bernard acknowledged that Curl has tried to improve himself. However, she also said that the court needs to hold people accountable for their actions -- even if they are not caught until years later.

"We can't minimize the damage that was done to this young girl," said Bernard.

Curl founded the Curl-Burke swim club, whose alumni include 2012 Olympic gold-medal winner Katie Ledecky. In September, Curl was banned for life from USA Swimming.

Curl first started fondling Currin when she was about 13 years old and he was in his 30s. The sexual contact progressed over the years to sexual intercourse. The sex acts took place in places including Georgetown Preparatory School and both Curl's and Currin's homes, according to court documents.

In 1986, Currin's parents discovered the inappropriate relationship in their daughter's diary, and they got Curl to sign a letter admitting to his behavior. A few years later, Curl paid Currin and her family $150,000 to keep silent.

During Thursday's hearing, Currin said that her life has been hard. She lost her chance at going to the 1988 Olympics because she was suffering from bulimia, and she has also suffered from alcoholism.

At the time of the abuse, Currin felt that she needed Curl in her life.

"I loved Rick Curl. I loved him. He was my hero," she said.

Prosecutors sought a sentence of 10 to 15 years in prison. But the defense asked that Curl receive only probation, saying that Curl acknowledged his inappropriate conduct at the time and took steps to better his life, including seeking treatment for a drinking problem.

Judge Bernard received 72 letters in support of Curl. Two of Curl's former students spoke on his behalf during the hearing, as did Curl's wife.

"I know what happened was an anomaly," Linda Curl said.

Rick Curl apologized to Currin and her family during the hearing and said that he has been trying to rehabilitate himself.

"I hope you see that I am a different person," Curl told the judge.