Kayla Harrison inspires the world of sports


Are you missing this summer’s Olympic Games as much as I am? You’re in luck because Sports Illustrated put out its end-of-the-year “Inspiring Performers” issue and it’s chock full of the women of the U.S. Olympic Team.

Gold medal winning judoka Kayla Harrison graces the cover of this issue with R.A. Dickey, the N.L. Cy Young Award winner. More on those two in a minute.

The section dedicated to the female Olympians begins “On the 40th Anniversary of Title IX, Female U.S. Olympians demonstrated in powerful and unmistakable terms how equal access to resources and equal opportunities to compete can pay off on the podium. … Here’s a look at the distinct characteristics the American women showed us…” What follows is a small article on each characteristic and the women who displayed it for the world: Fierceness (Gymnastics Team), Longevity (Kim Rhode, Shooting), Focus (Claressa Shields, Boxing), Unity (Swim Team), Dominance (Serena Williams, Tennis), Resilience (Soccer Team), Persistence (Brenda Villa, Water Polo), Wisdom (Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor, Beach Volleyball), and Consistency (Basketball).

The articles allow you to relive the Olympics by highlighting these performers and offering backstory that we might have missed in the breakneck pace of the Games as we flipped from channel to channel to try to catch as much of the action as we could.

But that article is just the warm up for what is certainly one of my favorite and most powerful articles in SI this year. R.A. Dickey and Kayla Harrison are at the top of their sports. Harrison won Gold in London and Dickey used his fluttering knuckleball to win 20 games and the Cy Young this season. From the outside you might not know that these two athletes were almost destroyed by the shame they carried from childhood sexual abuse.

This article is heart wrenching as it discusses what each suffered and how it ate at them for years. How each struggled to hide the shame he or she felt and how each finally found a way to break through the shame. The article is detailed and well-rounded and gives an eye-opening account of the ways that elite athletes, such as Harrison, may actually be more vulnerable to abuse. It is hard to read, at times, as we see the true depths these athletes reached before being able to break free.

Kayla Harrison at Glamour Magazine’s Women of the Year celebration

Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty

Reading how each found a way to break away from the shattering effects of the abuse is more inspiring than anything either athlete accomplished on the field or in the gym. Both have become advocates for victims and have worked to try to help others suffering abuse and survivors to move past their own shame in part by doing, over and over, what they once found unthinkable; talking about their abuse.

All the people SI singled out have done incredible things on and off the field of play but Harrison and Dickey are rightly set apart for their honesty, bravery, and work in trying to break the shame cycle that enables and emboldens sexual predators.

Who are your “Inspiring Performers” of 2012?

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