Kayla Harrison has won a second gold medal in judo. More than a fighter, she is considered by many to be a mentor with a heart of gold. The first time she took to the podium to accept a gold medal was four years ago, as reported at the time by the Inquisitr, and it was especially notable because she was the first American to win a gold medal in judo. Now, she’s the first American to win a second gold in judo. On that memorable day in 2012, she expressed gratitude from her heart for the people who helped her along the way.
“Words can’t really, truly express what it is like. Everyone who has been a part of my journey, I was thinking of all of them.”
Kayla Harrison, 26, trains in Wakefield, Massachusetts, under a second coach who’s made great strides in helping her to heal and grow. Even with all her success on the judo mat, her greatest legacy might just be her efforts for fellow survivors of abuse. Prior to the 2012 Olympics in London, she revealed she’d been a victim of sexual abuse from her former coach, Daniel Doyle.
“It’s no secret that I was sexually abused by my former coach. And that was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever had to overcome.”
Harrison has seen her share of challenges far from the Olympic villages in London and Rio. Aside from the grueling training schedule familiar to all dedicated Olympic athletes, Kayla Harrison has faced some of the most traumatic personal tragedies imaginable. Sexual abuse leaves deep, painful scars on the heart, but when the stigmas and the inclination of society not to discuss such things are factored in, it’s a heavy burden to bear. But Kayla did bear it, and is now speaking out in hopes of preventing others from enduring the same abuse. She founded her Fearless Foundation after her first Olympic win to “educate the masses about this form of abuse.” Her current project? She’s creating a book for seventh-grade health classes, in hopes that no young person is ever taken advantage of because they didn’t know it was okay to speak up.
“When I was in school, there were books on ‘stranger danger’ and safe sex, but nothing on if someone you know takes advantage of you. It’s something our society doesn’t know how to talk about still. There was no material about it.”
Once her book is in classrooms, Kayla Harrison says she may look to the web to increase knowledge for potential victims. She envisions an online network where users can type in their zip code and immediately find resources for survivors of sexual abuse within their areas. A second service of her Fearless Foundation is providing judo training to victims in order to give them an activity where they can find success. She refers to psychologists talking about “mastery,” and knows that judo was her mastery. She claims it was the one place where she could be a kid. But her desire to help others encompasses far more than judo. She says if judo isn’t for some survivors, they can find what is. Of course her favorite activity to share is judo, but she refuses to limit her services to just that.
“I don’t want to just bring these kids judo, but whatever that person enjoys. I want them to have something to really feel like a kid again.”
Her former coach, Daniel Doyle, is serving a 10-year federal prison sentence. He plead guilty in November 2007 to one count of “engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign place,” according to a report by USA Today. The statement of facts filed with the plea agreement reveals that an abusive relationship began in May 2004 when Harrison was only 13 years old, and continued for three years. Harrison traveled with Doyle for judo competitions and he took advantage of her on those trips, including to three foreign countries. USA Judo has banned Doyle for life.
In a beautiful story of a young victim being given a second chance to heal and move forward, Harrison was taken to Wakefield’s Pedro’s Judo Center and placed under the tutelage of Olympic bronze medalist and national team coach Jimmy Pedro and his father, “Big Jim.” The two have brought Kayla a long way from her tortured past, even going beyond judo coaching to coach her just before she had to testify against her abuser in court. She now considers them family and has now been given a second chance to experience how it’s really supposed to be between coaches and students.
Sadly, her struggles weren’t over even then. After her golden victory in London, she had a left knee injury that required surgery to repair in 2013. It meant she was out of her sport for most of the next year. As the Boston Herald reports, she struggled with her absence.
“It was really hard. To have to be away from competition for six months, almost a year, was hard. I’ve been doing judo for as long as I can remember.”
Rather than letting it discourage her from her Olympic goals, she allowed it to spur her on, finding the motivation necessary to compete for and win her second gold medal. Jimmy Pedro has seen her push forward, finding the drive to make it happen. He says she is “more mature,” and “more poised” for this second competition. For Kayla Harrison, it all came down to one day for her to bring home that gold. Her entire Olympic competition was played out on August 11, one day, so that day had to be perfect, and it was. She’s one fighter with a heart of gold who really earned her second gold medal.
What do you think of Kayla Harrison’s second victory and her efforts toward using her platform to help abuse survivors? Sound off in the comments section below.
[Photo by Markus Schreiber/AP Images]