RIO DE JANEIRO -- Kayla Harrison's mother, Jeannie Yazell, stood outside the judo arena early Thursday evening, beaming with pride and joy after watching her daughter earn a second Olympic gold medal in the sport. Yazell also wore a T-shirt bearing Harrison's image and the word "FEARLESS" in capital letters.
Being fearless is an important thing for Harrison, not just on the mat but everywhere. Especially after all she has been through.
"Our family is extremely competitive, even playing a game of Uno," Yazell said. "She is extremely competitive. Her fearlessness comes from every adversity that she has been through -- and she has been through so much adversity that no one can break her. These girls are tough, but there wasn't anything that could break her mentally coming into these Games."
Or during the Games, either.
Harrison won her second gold medal Thursday, beating France's Audrey Tcheumeo in the 78-kilogram division final. Harrison cried four years ago in London after becoming the first American -- female or male -- to win Olympic gold in judo, but she was all smiles this time.
"The first time I won gold I cried because I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe I was Olympic champion, the first ever for the United States," she said. "And this time around I was a woman on a mission. I wanted to retain my title. I knew it was going to be a long hard road, and I am happy. There will be no sad tears from me for a long, long time."
Harrison has had many times to cry in her life. Not only did her father die a few years ago, but she was sexually abused by her judo coach for several years from at least age 12 (the coach was sentenced to 10 years in prison). Because of that abuse, Yazell said, Harrison was moved from the family home in Ohio to Massachusetts to help her get away from that horror.
Once there, she began working with two highly respected coaches, Jim Pedro and his son Jimmy, who is a two-time Olympic bronze medalist in judo. They helped make her the champion she is today.
"She's a young lady that has overcome such adversity in her life that no judo match can compare to what she's been through," Jimmy Pedro said. "As an athlete, she always gives 100 percent and does everything that's expected of her. She listens, she adapts, she can follow a game plan. She never skips a workout. She is as dedicated as they come, and she is as tough as any athlete I've ever been with."
With two gold medals, Harrison says she will retire from competition -- "What else is there for me to do in judo?" -- and try to grow the sport. More importantly, she also will focus more on helping sexually abused children and adults to cope with the trauma. After the London Olympics, she started the Fearless Foundation for that purpose.
"I set up the foundation to try and help survivors of sexual abuse through education, through sports," she said. "There is a lot of stuff going on, and it's just in its infancy. Being a two-time Olympic champion is an amazing thing, but the Fearless Foundation isn't about me; it's about helping people who need help. And essentially being to someone else what the Pedros were to me. They saved my life and changed my life."
They also taught her to not be afraid, despite all she had experienced.
"When I talk to them, they tell me, 'Kayla Harrison, be fearless. Unleash, and you will be Olympic champion,'" she said. "And I want young boys and young girls to feel fearless and to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel and there is a shining gold medal.
"Maybe even two."