From Suicidal to Gold Medalist:Hope for Teens with Troubles

by guestinyourheart

Published in Beth O’Malley’s Lifebook newsletter. Beth O’Malley’ is a national lifebook expert and author of Lifebooks Creating a Treasure for the Adopted Child. She is also an adoptee, adoptive parent and an adoption social worker. To sign up for her newsletter, go to

From Suicidal to Gold Medalist:Hope for Teens with Troubles

Seeing pictures of Kayla Harrison now, smiling and triumphant as an Olympic gold medalist, it is hard to imagine she was suicidal a few years ago. Her current coach, Jimmy Pedro of Pedro’s Judo Center in Wakefield, MA found her ready to jump off of a two-story building soon after he began training her.

What had caused her depression was enduring four years of sexual abuse by another coach, Daniel Doyle, which started when Kayla was 13 years old.

“Every day was a lie inside. I was in constant turmoil,” Harrison said in a CNN article on August 2nd, 2012. She almost left the sport saying it was hard to compete or even to feel normal.

It wasn’t until she confided what was happening to a friend, who in turn told Harrison’s mother that the abuse ended. Harrison’s mother pressed charges immediately. Daniele Doyle is now serving a ten-year sentence in Federal prison.

Kayla credits her new coach, Pedro, as well as family, friends and other judo students with keeping her alive. Harrison had people who believed her immediately and supported her after she disclosed.

Unfortunately, that is not the norm for victims of sexual abuse. According to psychoanalyst Gerald Schoenewolf, “the molestation is often only part of the problem… How parents react when they are told their child has been molested by a relative or friend makes all of the difference.” (1)

“One of the things that can cause sexual molestation to have the most damaging effect,” Schoenewolf said, “is when the child tries to tell adults what has happened and the child is not believed.”

If a supportive adult offers to listen to abuse-related thoughts, feelings or memories related he/she can show the child their experiences aren’t too scary for the adult to handle. In addition, they give the message to the child that such thoughts, feelings and memories are normal and need not be dealt with alone.

This type of support can change or even save a life. For Harrison, support came from her mother, coach and friends. For others, support may come from a social worker, foster parent, teacher, or close neighbor. Believing a person and also believing in their ability to heal is a life-affirming gift any of us can give a teen in turmoil.

For athletes, it’s the fact that Kayla Harrison is the first American ever to win gold in the sport of judo at the Olympics that is awe-inspiring. To me, it’s the fact that she survived four years of sexual abuse by her coach and worked through her trauma. The abuse did not rob her of her goals, dreams or life. Kayla Harrison is a role model for teens everywhere, struggling with any type of abuse.

1. Footnote (1) Full article by Gerald Schoenewolf–oly.html