"I work out, eat, rest, work out, eat, rest, repeat," quips Kayla Harrison, a gold medalist at the 2010 World Judo Championship. "Everything is devoted 110 percent to training." And that's just one day in Harrison's training schedule. Ultimately, in London this summer, she'll compete to become the first American woman to bring home Olympic gold in judo.
Stubbornness and Passion
Harrison's passion for judo started at an early age. "My mother was good [at judo] in college … so when I was a little girl, she wanted me to learn self-defense, and she enrolled me in the local club." When she began practicing in her home town of Middletown, Ohio, she was only six years old. "A year later, I started competing at local events and I just really fell in love with it," she recalls. "I loved going to hotels and staying overnight somewhere new and hanging out with the team."
She was having a blast, but not necessarily on the mat. "Pretty sure I lost," she says, laughing, referring to her first competition. "For two years, I didn't win a match." Still, she stuck with judo and continued to train, confident she would one day make it to the next level. "I was stubborn. I still am. I trained with all the guys and I was jealous, because they always came home with medals and I came home with nothing."
Harrison continued to train with her male counterparts to elevate her performance. "They beat the crap out of me," she says. But the tough training eventually produced wins on the mat, and she took the next step to continue her sports career.
"The Highlight Of My Life"
At age 16, Harrison, moved to Boston to train under Jimmy Pedro, one of the most successful American judo competitors in history, with two Olympic bronze medals under his belt. The decision to move had been made years before, the result of several conversations Pedro had with Harrison's mother. "It was just a matter of when," Harrison says.
Training became her full-time job. "We do judo twice a day, five days a week," she says. "I lift five days a week and we run three days a week. So I train three times a day, five days a week, and I also lift on Saturdays." That's six days of training per week, with Sunday as her day for recovery. "It's kind of like your typical day job," she says. Although her life is anything but typical, the hard work paid off.
In 2010, Harrison became the first American since Pedro (in 1999) to win gold at the World Judo Championship in Tokyo, birthplace of the sport. "It was a huge honor to win it in Japan," she recalls. "Probably the highlight of my life to date. There's no greater feeling than being the best in the world at something."
Winning only made Harrison hungrier for more. "Once you get a taste of that, you stay really, really hungry for it. It's addicting."
Train Like a Judo Warrior
Harrison fuels her desire to win with non-stop, circuit-based workouts. "It's usually 10 to 12 exercises and it's basically torture," she says. "It could include climbing a rope, doing judo, running and lifting a 30-pound ball, throwing it as high as you can […] Sled Pushes, Sled Pulls. And you do it as fast as you can … a 90-second break and do it again. Three times." Such workouts have left Harrison mentally prepared, physically strong and confident in her ability to win Olympic gold.
Below is a sample workout that Pedro, the USA Judo National Team Force head coach, prescribes for Harrison. Follow the coaching points or links to perform her workout. Rest 90 seconds and repeat the circuit twice more.
Rope Climb — 1x20 feet with 5 Pull-Ups at the top
Med Ball V-Sit Twists — 1x20 (Harrison uses 20-lb. ball)
Performed like Russian Twists, but with legs straight in V-Up starting position
Band Uchikomi — 1x50
"Failure Is My Fuel"
Now 21, Harrison finds herself four months away from the Olympic spotlight. "I've wanted to be an Olympic champion since I was a little girl," she says. "It's just this inner drive. I can't explain it. One of my favorite quotes from Michael Jordan is: 'Failure is my fuel.' It's totally true. If you use your failure as your fuel, then the sky's the limit."
Although she's weeks away from boarding her flight to London, Harrison already knows what's going to happen once she lands. "Every night, I visualize myself winning the Olympics. I go through my whole day; and I just plan it out, from the weigh-in, to what I eat, to who I fight and the quarters and the semis and the finals," she says. "I've already won it 100 times in my head."
Photos: 1asport.de, news.daylife.com
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock