Hometown Hero: Kayla Harrison
Kayla Harrison has a lot on her shoulders. But don't worry; this super-strong judo star can handle it.
Lucky for Kayla, Jimmy Pedro Jr. is right by her side in London-- because he was named a team USA judo coach.
Kayla Harrison is one tough competitor on and off the judo matt.
The 22-year-old had set her sights high for London, hoping to achieve something no American woman has ever done -- win a gold medal in judo, and she did.
"Since 2010 I’ve had nothing on my mind but winning in London," Harrison said.
And Kayla has the credentials to do it. She was a two-time national champion before she was 18, and in 2010 became the first U.S. woman to win a world championship in almost 30 years.
“I don't think that I’m more talented than any of the girls in my division, and don't' think I have outstanding technique. I don’t think that I’m head and shoulders above them. I think that what’s going to win this tournament is first of all, heart. I want this so bad,” Harrison said.
The Ohio native started judo at age six and hasn't looked back since. But her road has not been easy.
Starting when she was just 13, Kayla endured years of sexual abuse at the hands of her former judo coach. That coach has since plead guilty and is serving a 10-year federal prison sentence.
“It made me who I am today. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. I wouldn’t wish for that to happen to anyone, but I know that I can do anything. I know that I can make it through any practice. I know that there is nothing out there that is going to be harder than what I’ve gone through,” said Harrison.
After that emotional time six years ago, Kayla moved to Wakefield to train with two-time Olympic judo medalist Jimmy Pedro and his father Jimmy Senior.
"Big Jim -- That’s what I call Jimmy Senior. He's kind of like a father figure, grandfather, best friend," Harrison said.
While she considers the Pedro's family, Kayla now lives in Marblehead with her fiancé, Aaron, a local fireman. And it looks like Kayla may follow in his footsteps.
“I think I’m number one on the list in Marblehead, so if the job opens up and I have my EMT, I will be a firefighter,” Harrison said.
For now, it's all about the Olympics, but Kayla’s future sure looks bright.
“I’m just really thankful and happy to be where I am today,” Harrison said.