Harrison trying to look beyond troubled past

By Wayne Drehs | ESPN.com
Jul 4, 2016

DALLAS -- For the better part of 90 minutes here Sunday, Kayla Harrison sat on a podium in front of a group of strangers and tried to keep her composure and control her emotions. But it wasn't easy.

"I have a little bit of adrenaline in me right now," she said. "It's nerve-racking."

kayla harrison
AP Photo/Javier Galeano
Kayla Harrison is vying to become the first American to win the Olympic gold medal in judo

In a perfect world, coming to the U.S. Olympic Media Summit would have been no big deal for the promising 21-year-old judo practitioner. She would have talked about becoming the first U.S. woman to win a judo world championship in 26 years and what that means for her chances in London this summer.

But that wasn't what most people wanted to talk about Sunday. Instead, the questions surrounded her decision last November go public with her story of sexual abuse by her former coach. Daniel Doyle is currently serving a 10-year federal prison sentence after pleading guilty in 2007 to engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign place.

"It's something I have to deal with," Harrison said. "This happened to me. It's part of my story, but there's also this big thing called the Olympics that I really want to win."

Harrison decided to come forward and share her story out of a desire to help others who have dealt with sexual abuse. Her story appeared the same week that the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke at Penn State University, which prompted a wide range of emotions. "It lit a fire in me," she said. She admitted Sunday she argued with friends who defended Joe Paterno and found herself sickened by Penn State students who protested Paterno's dismissal.

"Who cares if he loses his job? That's not what this is about," she said. "This is about multiple people losing their lives forever. Seeing kids my age riot and think that's OK ... I just felt like they didn't deserve a college education. What is wrong with you?"

Harrison then took a deep breath. "I'm sorry," she said.

If Harrison has her way, her performance in London will overshadow her emotional personal story. No American has ever won Olympic gold in judo. Harrison is optimistic her work with coaches Jimmy and Big Jim Pedro can help her become the first. She knows accomplishing such a feat would give her an even greater platform to help victims of sexual abuse.

"I want to be able to change someone else's life," she said. "I want to do what the Pedros did for me. I want to be that person. Even if it's only one person."