The fighter and the mother
Even before Harrison won his first Olympic gold medal, people knew part of his story.
Harrison revealed ahead of the London Games that she was sexually abused by a judo coach in her hometown of Middletown, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati. From there she moved to suburban Boston, where she trained with veteran judo coach Jim Pedro and his son Jimmy, a two-time Olympic bronze medalist. Harrison says she suffered from depression after the move and received psychiatric care at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass.
She credits the Pedros with reviving her judo career and structuring her life.
“They made my mental health a priority,” Harrison said. “I still remember being that 16-year-old girl who wouldn’t get out of bed, with five dollars in her pocket.”
She then created the Fearless Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides resources to survivors of sexual abuse.
In addition to training and her duties with the foundation, Harrison has parenting responsibilities. In 2020, Harrison took custody of his niece and nephew after the unexpected death of his stepfather, who had raised them alongside Harrison’s mother. She calls Kyla, 9, and Emery, 3, her children.
Harrison described her abrupt transition into parenthood as “terrifying,” but she managed to fit the kids into her routine. Emery recently moved from a crib to a bed, and Kyla is signed up for a variety of sports. During busy times, like the weeks leading up to a fight, Harrison’s mother comes down from Ohio to help out.
“It balanced out pretty quickly,” she said. “Now I’m a badass mom and a tough fighter.
Along with head coach Mike Brown and Jim Pedro, who have been with Harrison for years, his team now also includes a stylist and videographer. Their presence signals that, even for a sensible competitor like Harrison, brand image is important.