Judo is for fighters. "It's like a chess match — but instead of moving a rook, you get to throw somebody," laughs Harrison, 22, who at the 2012 Summer Olympics became the first American to win a gold medal in the martial art. Now she's using her platform for a different kind of fight.
As a teenager in Ohio, Harrison was sexually abused by her coach; the experience shattered her self-esteem and nearly destroyed her love for her sport. "My passion became my prison," she says. "I was extremely suicidal, just at rock bottom." Then Harrison moved to Wakefield, Massachusetts, where time, therapy, and her new trainer — former Olympian Jimmy Pedro Jr. — helped her rise from the mat and become a world champion.
Today Harrison is in early training for Rio 2016, but with a gold medal already under her black belt, she's equally focused on her new advocacy role, sharing her story as a public speaker and starting her own foundation. "My life has been changed," says Harrison, who now lives in Marblehead, where her fiancé is a firefighter. "I consider it an obligation to be a voice for victims."