No sooner had I published an article on NCAA wrestling champion Anthony Robles (based on a Q &A session at espn.go.com) highlighting the inspiration behind his feat, in spite of the obstacle he faced, and out comes another inspirational piece from the LA Times. This one about Kayla Harrison, the difficulty she faced, and her path to win Olympic gold in judo this summer in London.
As similar as Anthony’s and Kayla’s stories are, at least from the standpoint of them competing in combative sports (judo and wrestling), both facing some significant difficulties, and the extraordinary efforts needed in overcoming those obstacles, Kayla’s circumstance was not something she was born with. Her situation, one that triggered some pretty severe emotional trauma, was initiated by the actions of someone else.
According to Kevin Baxter’s piece, Judo's Kayla Harrison finds sanctuary — and perhaps Olympic gold, Kayla was “sexually abused” by her coach, a trusted individual and family friend who took her up the competitive judo ladder, coaching her to “two national titles.”
The incident (which eventually led to her former coach, Dan Doyle, receiving a “10-year prison sentence”), left Kayla with some pretty deep emotional scares. The kind of scarring that can lead one to view suicide as a viable option―something Kayla admitted to contemplating.
Her saving grace came from the individuals who manage Pedro's Judo Center (Jimmy Pedro and his dad), a place where she enrolled to study Judo after her traumatic ordeal. With the help and support of the Pedro’s, she rebuilt her life, something she credits directly back to them as she states:
"As corny as it sounds, as melodramatic as it sounds, it's true. The Pedros saved my life and they changed my life"… "I don't even want to think about what would have happened to me if I had stayed there."
With this rebuilding came a judo world championship and the chance to become the first ever U.S. gold medalist in judo in this summer’s upcoming Olympic Games in London.
From tragedy to triumph, inspiration, desire, motivation, they certainly come in many different forms. No one would ever wish the type of circumstance that Kayla was manipulated into, and subjected to, for the sake of any level of sports success. It is inconceivable.
Yet, the unbending will and determination, the work ethic and effort, the dedication and commitment to excellence she had to show in order to overcome her inner trauma, as well as reach the pinnacle of her sport, and possible Olympic gold medal she could earn, is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
There is always only one first, and I’m hoping this first, the one where the U.S. earns its first ever Olympic gold in judo, goes to Kayla Harrison.