The Fighter and the Mother
Before Harrison had even won her first Olympic gold medal, people knew some of her story.
Harrison revealed before the London Games that she had been sexually abused by a judo coach in her hometown, Middletown, Ohio, a Cincinnati suburb. From there, she moved to suburban Boston, where she trained with the 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 adding structure to her life.
“They made my mental health a priority,” Harrison said. “I still remember being that 16-year-old girl who didn’t want to get out of bed, with five dollars in her pocket.”
She later established the Fearless Foundation, a nonprofit 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 her niece and nephew after her stepfather, who had been raising them alongside Harrison’s mother, died unexpectedly. She calls Kyla, 9, and Emery, 3, her kids.
Harrison described her abrupt transition to parenthood as “terrifying,” but she has managed to work the children into her routine. Emery recently graduated from a crib to a bed, and Kyla is enrolled in a variety of sports. During busy stretches, like the weeks before a fight, Harrison’s mother flies down from Ohio to help.
“It balanced itself pretty quickly,” she said. “Now I’m a badass mom and a badass fighter.”
Along with head coach Mike Brown and Jim Pedro, who have been with Harrison for years, her team now also features a stylist and a videographer. Their presence signals that, even for a no-nonsense competitor like Harrison, branding matters.