So many incredible women at the Olympics this year. Wojdan Shaherkani, the first Saudi woman to compete in the Olympics. Gabby Douglas, the first black woman to win the Olympic all-around in gymnastics (and who also just seems like a nice human being). And Kayla Harrison, who won the first gold medal in judo for the United States, and has spent the past several years speaking openly about being sexually assaulted by a coach:
“It’s no secret,” she began, after a long pause, when a reporter asked her to name the worst moment she had to face in her career, “that I was sexually abused by my former coach. And that was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever had to overcome.”
Harrison has told her story before, first to USA Today only days after the indictment of Jerry Sandusky came down and the front pages were full of news about Penn State, sexual abuse and coaches who exploit their authority.
She said she felt it necessary to speak out so that others in her position could take heart.
She told it to newspapers and magazines, about how her coach had insinuated himself into the family, how sexual contact led to sexual intercourse over a period of years, on trips to Venezuela, Russia and Estonia, until she was 16. She told about finally revealing this to a friend (a firefighter who would become her fiancé) and then to her mother, who smashed out the coach’s car windows with a baseball bat. (The former coach, Daniel Doyle, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and banned from the sport.)
And she told about how she was a mess — desperate, unhappy and ready to give up on everything — when within weeks her mother, Jeannie Yazell, took her from Ohio to study judo with Jimmy Pedro and his father, Jim Pedro Sr., at Pedro’s Judo Center in Wakefield, Mass.
“We just felt like she just had to get back to what she knew how to do,” Yazell said. “She could have control over what went on on the mat.”
Athletic prowess and personal courage. These women are amazing.