On August 2, Kayla Harrison became the first American to win an Olympic gold medal in judo. Months before that, Harrison won the respect of many by revealing her personal struggle with child sexual abuse.
Harrison was sexually abused from the age of 13 by her previous judo coach until she came forward to a friend at age 16. She says that she considered suicide and quitting judo during the years of abuse.
“I would write in my journal all the time about what it would be like if I was gone, what I would do, and if anyone would miss me,” said Harrison. “Fortunately, I never acted on it.”
Upon learning what was happening to her daughter, Jeannie Yazell moved her family across the country, and Harrison began training with a new group of judo coaches. They helped her turn her anger and confusion into fuel for pursuing her goal of winning Olympic gold, and last week she realized that dream.
“We’re real people,” Big Jim [her current coach] says, “and had real conversations with her. And you can’t treat her with kid gloves, and pity her and feel sorry for her. You have to sort of let her know that you need to face it, you need to end it, and you need to move on, and use it to make you a stronger person.”
Harrison said she came forward because she wants to make it easier for others in a similar situation to speak out.
“Hopefully someday, somewhere, I can make a difference if I can talk one girl into coming out or into saying something,” Harrison says.
You can read the full story on Kayla Harrison on USA Today’s website or listen to an interview with her on NPR’s website.