Tuesday, August 21, 2012

kayla harrison, olympic survivor.

"this is my day.
this is my purpose.
i am an olympic champion."

for five years, this was kayla harrison's mantra.
it got her through the hardest part of her life,
& it got her through the best:
winning judo gold in her first olympics.

6yo kayla began judo at her mother's urging.
at 8yo, the little girl from middletown, ohio,
began training with coach daniel doyle.
he took her to two national championships & several international tournaments
by the time she turned sweet 16.

he also took her trust & her childhood —
at 16yo, kayla revealed to a friend that her coach
had been sexually abusing her for years.
the friend told kayla's mom, who first
smashed doyle's car windows with a baseball bat,
then called the police & had him arrested.

kayla was broken.

her mother, in an instinctive & insightful move,
sent kayla to wakefield, massachusetts,
to train with two-time medal-winner jimmy pedro & his father, big jim,
at their full-time resident training program for judokas,
team force [focus on results, civic responsibility & education].

slowly & surely, pedro helped kayla rebuild her strength & sense of self.
in 2010, she became the first u.s. woman to win a judo world championship
in 26 years, & the first of either gender to win
it since pedro had in 1999.

harrison returned to ohio to testify against her abuser,
who pled guilty, was sentenced to serve ten years in prison
& was expelled for life from usa judo.

then harrison came to the london games as the highest-ranked
u.s. judoka, regardless of gender or weight class.

it was her day.
it was her purpose.
& she became an olympic champion.

22yo harrison beat team gb's gemma gibbons
2-0 in the women's under-78kg division.

"she should inspire many to be brave, to have courage, to realize
they're a victim, & to come forward & move on with their lives," says pedro.
"kayla harrison stepped forward. she is a hero.
there's nothing on the olympic mat that compares with what she's already beat."

harrison, now happily engaged to firefighter aaron handy
& working toward becoming a firefighter herself,
sums up her greatest lesson learned thusly:

"never give up on your dreams.
i mean, if i can do it, anybody can do it.
this just proves that you're only a victim
if you allow yourself to be."

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