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Judo Saved Kayla Harrison’s Life

Figure 1: Kayla Harrison in her American Judo uniform.

There are various reasons as to why people get involved with in sports. Elite athletes around the world dedicate a significant part of their lives to train and compete at the highest level. They have mastered the art of skill, composure, and passion, none more so that Kayla Harrison. She is perhaps the best example of a complete Judoka both on and off the mat, and she personifies what Jigoro Kano wanted his creation of Judo to achieve. Kayla Harrison is best known for being the first American in history to win an Olympic Gold medal in the sport of Judo. But is her personal story and her love for Judo that she has been able to inspire a generation of young athletes and people around the world.

At the tender age of 16, Kayla was sexually abused by her Judo coach continuously. This ordeal sent her into a spiral of depression and suicide was constantly on her mind. She then moved to Boston, and due to her mother's financial situation, she began living in the Judo house with her teammates and coach. When she was there, she refused to do anything and was stubborn and arduous. But the rules of a Dojo applied to all, and if she wanted to be there she had to participate, Kayla had to learn, and she had to grow with every member.  

‘When I was first in Boston living with the judo team, I didn't want to lift weights, I didn't want to go to school, or go to therapy, but I had no choice. If I wanted to be in the judo house, I had to follow the rules. There were days when my teammates would drag me out of bed and drive me to school, and they would watch me walk through the school doors.' – Kayla Harrison

The statement is a testament to the systems and values that are held in Judo, Kayla's teammates were not just teammates but were her friends, her family, and because of their belief in her, they made sure she did what was necessary to recover. Her new found love for Judo also kept her going, it gave her a purpose a sense of direction, and she set a goal to one day be an Olympic champion a feat she did achieve as she went on to make history.  


Figure 2: Kayla Harrison with her Olympic Gold

Fearless Foundation The complete Judoka

Kayla Harris has played her role in society leading an admirable life. Kayla is also a motivational speaker, sharing messages of belief and perseverance. She has stood before schools, colleges, and Fortune 500 companies. Kayla actively speaks on sexual abuse issues and uses her life as an example of how to overcome even the worst of situations. She has founded the Fearless Foundation that works with people who have been sexually abused. The aim is to help rehabilitate these people and to empower them to reach greater heights and not allow themselves to be held back by their experiences. Kayla Harrison used her talent in Judo and her personal experiences to be a pillar of her society.  


Figure 3: Kayla Harrison's on a Fearless Foundation promotion.

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