LONDON (CBS) – A local woman will be looking to become the first American, male or female, to win an Olympic gold medal in judo next month.
Read: WBZ London Eye Blog
It’s a tough challenge for any competitor, but for 22-year-old Kayla Harrison, it doesn’t seem that daunting considering the struggles she has already experienced in her life.
Harrison was sexually abused by her former judo coach for three years, starting when she was 12 years old. After years of abuse, she finally pressed charges and her former coach was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
“I think I cried pretty much every day,” said Harrison.
Harrison then moved to Massachusetts six years ago to live and train with the greatest American judoist to date, Jimmy Pedro.
“Emotionally she was scarred and psychologically she was scarred. So, there was certainly difficult times where she broke down and cried or wanted to run away, but we sought out the right assistance and help for her, and we guided her as much as we possibly could to get her back on the right track,” said Pedro.
Pedro is a two-time Olympic bronze medalist and currently coaches Harrison and other athletes out of his gym in Wakefield, Massachusetts.
“Jimmy is the most decorated athlete that US Judo has ever seen,” said Harrison. “He’s won pretty much everything there is to win, besides the Olympics. So, if you wanna be the best, you have to train with the best.”
With the support of Jimmy and his father, Big Jim, Kayla made drastic improvements both personally and as an athlete. Harrison went on to win the 2010 World Championship in Tokyo and is currently ranked fourth in the world in the -78kg division.
Harrison hopes to pursue a career in firefighting after her judo career is over. She got engaged just before the Olympics and currently lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts.
She will compete for the gold on Aug. 2.
Matthew Reed is a student at Boston University, spending his summer internship reporting from the London Olympics for CBS Boston.