This is What Strength Looks Like
August 19, 2016
Last week in Rio, Kayla Harrison became the first American to win back-to-back gold medals in judo. In 2012, Kayla made history by being the first American to earn a gold medal in judo. She made history again last week in earning her second consecutive gold medal.
Few of us can imagine the strength, endurance, focus and extra-human training required to qualify to earn a spot at the Olympics, much less compete and earn a gold medal. Yet, in the words of Kayla’s coach, Jimmy Pedro, “Mentally, Kayla will not break. She’s already fought the toughest battle of her life, so walking onto a judo mat is nothing for her.”
Kayla has been very public about the sexual abuse she suffered from age 13 – 16. “It’s no secret that I was sexually abused by my former coach. And that was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever had to overcome.” The story is all too familiar in many ways. Daniel Doyle, not only spent countless hours coaching Kayla in judo, he also insidiously wove himself into the fabric of her family, offering to babysit Kayla and her siblings, helping out as a friend of the family and even managing to be invited along on family vacations.
As is also the case in the vast majority of childhood sexual abuse cases, the child becomes so caught up in the twisted dynamic of the abuse that speaking up, telling someone, becomes impossible. It wasn’t until Kayla was 16 and near the end of her emotional rope that she reached out in desperation and told a friend about the abuse.
And this is where the story becomes less familiar. Kayla’s friend told Kayla’s mother who took immediate action. According to one account, Kayla’s mother, Jeanie Yazell, took a baseball bat and smashed all of the car windows in Doyle’s car. She promptly reported the abuse to the police and eventually supported her daughter in pressing charges against Doyle. Although her act of vandalism is certainly questionable, (though who in this world could blame her!), Kayla’s mother’s unwavering belief in her daughter’s claims and her swift action in reporting the abuse are shining examples of exactly how to respond to a victim’s disclosure.
Every sexually abused child should have such a parent who, without reservation, believes and (literally in this case) goes to bat for their child! Sadly, this is not the norm. I hear story after story of parents who, if their child does dare to speak of their abuse, turn a deaf ear, refuse to believe their child, or worse yet, shame, blame, or punish their child for the abuse.
Exhibiting strength in her own right, Jeanie Yazell acted swiftly and surely to support her daughter in the very best way possible.
Kayla’s journey to healing and health was torturous and led her through many dark days, which included much self-doubt and even suicidal intentions. With her mother’s continued support and the patient and steadfast support of her new coach, Jimmy Pedro, Kayla finally came to find her way back to the sport she loved. Through the support and belief of those around her, Kayla found within her an even deeper strength that led her to the Olympic stage.
As Kayla left the floor of the arena last week after earning her second gold medal, she found her ecstatic mother in the stands. And as Kayla and her mother embraced, her mother yelled, “We did it! We did it!” They most certainly did!
Every sexually abused child should have such a parent who, without reservation, believes and (literally in this case) goes to bat for their child!