WOMAN OF THE YEAR
Although she’s been well-known in the judo world for years, Kayla Harrison rose to fame in the greater martial arts community when she struck gold at the 2012
ondon ames and thus became the �irst American judoka — female or male — to stand atop an Olympic podium. She reveled in the glory of the moment, then got right back to work in the dojo to prepare for the 2016 Games. And guess what? She grabbed another gold in Rio!
“I knew it was going to be a tough road, but I also knew I had prepared as best I could,” Harrison said. “I went to tournaments and training camps all over the world looking for the right preparation. I trained as if I wasn’t an Olympic champion, and that is why I won.”
As much as the double gold speaks volumes about Harrison’s skill, athleticism and work ethic, she’s quick to credit her coaches, Black Belt Hall of Famers Jimmy Pedro Jr. and his father James Pedro Sr. “They are the best coaches in the world,” Harrison said. “I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am — both personally and professionally — if it weren’t for them.”
Not long ago, Harrison joined forces with Fuji Sports to launch a product line called Fearless. It includes judo uniforms, compression tights and tops, sports bras and headbands, all aimed
at empowering female athletes. “My sponsor approached me to help design a line of women’s clothing,” she said. “I tested all the products myself, had �irsthand input on design, weight, materials used, etc. I really wanted to create a line made by a female martial artist for female martial artists.”
An even more positive side effect of Harrison’s Olympic success lives under a similar title. “The Fearless Foundation was created to help survivors of child sexual abuse,” she said. For those who don’t know, when Harrison was 13, she was abused by a judo instructor. What better way to bounce back from such a traumatic experience than to help others cope with the aftermath of similar crimes.
“Right now, I am in the middle of writing a book that will come out next spring with the goal of educating our society on child sexual abuse and all the signs and symptoms,” she said. “It will inspire and empower survivors to not only live and survive but to thrive!”
“Kayla is a living example of Jigoro Kano’s principles,” said Gary Goltz, former president of the U.S. Judo Association. “She’s a positive role model for all judoka, as well as the embodiment of the Zen proverb ‘Fall down seven times and get up eight.’”
After Harrison’s second Olympic victory, Goltz spearheaded an effort to get her a batsugun, or jump promotion. “I �igured that if she were Japanese, judo authorities would make her a godan (�ifth degree) for winning one gold medal, but she had won two,” he said. “I suggested to the board that we do something unprecedented and give her a rokudan (sixth degree). The board ȏof the JAȐ voted in favor of my idea.”
Harrison is about to embark on the next phase of her career: the transition to mixed martial arts. Her plans call for her to do commentary for World Series of Fighting events until the end of 2017, after which she will make her debut in the cage. In the meantime, she’s been bolstering her skill set with Brazilian jiu-jitsu, muay Thai, no- gi grappling, boxing, and strength and conditioning.
“I feel as if I have done everything I want to do in judo, but I don’t feel as if my time as an athlete is over,” Harrison said. “MMA is a great opportunity and outlet for that athleticism. It’s a whole new challenge, and every day I get to show up and be a white belt all over again.”
Kayla arrison’s �irst induction into the Black Belt Hall of Fame was in 2012 when she received a Special Achievement Award. With this induction as our 2017 Woman of the Year, she joins the elite club of two-time judo winners, which was previously occupied by just �ive peopleǣ Jimmy edro Jr., ayward ishioka, at Burris, Allen Coage and Mike Swain.
I FEEL AS IF I HAVE DONE EVERYTHING I WANT TO DO IN JUDO, BUT I DON’T FEEL AS IF MY TIME AS AN ATHLETE IS OVER.” — KAYLA HARRISON