Kayla Harrison began training in judo at age 6 and is the first American ever to win an Olympic gold medal in the sport, which she did in both 2012 and 2016. Yet her competitive success masked an unimaginable personal struggle. At the age of 16, she revealed that she had been sexually abused by her coach for years. Today, Kayla uses her gold medal profile, voice, and example, as well as her Fearless Foundation, to encourage and empower other survivors of child sexual abuse. Now retired from competing in judo, Kayla is moving into mixed martial arts with the Professional Fighters League. She lives and trains in Boston. Fighting Back, coauthored with Cynthia Kaplan, PhD, and Blaise Aguirre, MD, is her first book.
Read our exclusive interview for a behind-the-scenes peak at what inspired Kayla to share her story, what she hopes readers take away from her book, and her life outside of training.
Read a free sample chapter from Fighting Back.
I wrote Fighting Back for two very important reasons. The first was the realization that there are so many victims of child sexual abuse (CSA) who need a voice and to know they are not alone. I wanted to show them that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The second and most important reason I wrote this book was to educate our society. We are just now starting to have real conversations about CSA. Fighting Back is an important resource filled with critical information and science-based research, and, more personally, it's also a source of guidance and support.
The hardest part of writing for me was rereading some of my journal entries. I forget sometimes what it was like to be that scared 12-year-old little girl, but my writing really made that time vivid for me again. The easiest part was working with my coauthors! They were phenomenal and I am so lucky to have Cynthia and Blaise in my corner!
There are lots! But first and foremost, I want survivors to know that they are not alone, and that they are capable of overcoming any obstacle and accomplishing great things. And second, I really, truly hope this book helps us to start educating ourselves and our children about the warning signs of CSA, and how to take action to prevent it, stop it, and help children heal.
Wherever I Wind Up by R.A. Dickey is a great memoir, and was a huge influence for me. Dickey wasn’t afraid to be honest and to be his true self. Reading his book gave me courage, and helped me to understand that although I have complicated emotions about my past and some of the things I wrote about, I should never feel shame.
I love adventures! Whether that’s Taco Tuesday and salsa dancing, or mini golfing, or driving three hours up to Vermont to get some maple syrup and to look at antiques. Spontaneity is the way to go!
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.
Right now, I am hard at work on my organization, the Fearless Foundation. Our mission is to shine a light on the darkness that is CSA, and to enrich the lives of survivors through education and sport. I'm also training for my first official MMA fight later this year. Then of course there is my personal life. It's all more than enough to keep me busy!