Kayla Harrison has become the United States’ first ever judo gold medalist. But that wasn’t the hardest part. The 22-year-old judo champion had to overcome several demons after being abused in silence for three years by her childhood coach. She was 16 years old when she proved her bravery and spoke out against her then coach. The pain and suffering of abuse was so hard that Harrison wrestled with thoughts of suicide.
Harrison calls her new coach, Jimmy Pedro, her “hero.” She credits him for saving her life and rebuilding her confidence. This is the confidence that lead her to today’s gold medal match against Great Britain’s Gemma Gibbons.
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Gibbons has her own amazing story to the finals as well. Nobody expected Gibbons to medal at the Olympics, or actually even come close to the medal. She was the ultimate underdog, but also the home country’s hero. Gibbons had never won a medal or placed in a major tournament before competing in the Olympics. Gibbons dedicated this run to her mother, who she lost to leukemia in 2004.
Gibbons shocked all the judo experts when she defeated world champion France’s Audrey Tcheumeo. She had the entire nation of Great Britain behind her when she entered the final against Harrison. Harrison had been dominant the entire tournament and was still the heavy favorite.
Harrison’s transformation into a world-class judo competitor is an example of her perseverance and toughness. The abuse had shattered her confidence and caused her to quit the sport. Pedro repaired the damage and got her focused on the Olympics. Harrison entered the 78kg women’s judo final as a victor and someone who had overcome the worst demons.
After the match, she became a gold medalist. Harrison controlled the entire match and won 2-0. Her long journey had a golden ending. She will now always be America’s first judo gold medalist.
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(Image courtesy of NBC)