Kayla Harrison is an American female judoka who fell in love with the sport when she was introduced to it by her mother to learn self-defense. A practicing martial artist since the age of six, she transitioned to judo at the age of 13. After demonstrating both a passion and immense talent for judo at a young age, she moved away from her home in Ohio at age 16 to begin training in Massachusetts.
At the junior level, she won nearly every domestic event in which she competed. A two-time national champion before the age of 18, Harrison became the third U.S. athlete ever to win the Junior World Championships in 2008. In 2009, she also became the first athlete to receive the Rusty Kanokogi Fund for the Advancement of U.S. Judo grant, administered by the Women’s Sports Foundation, to continue her judo competition at the elite level.
At the 2011 World Judo Championships in Paris, she earned a bronze medal. Four months prior to the 2012 Olympic Games, Harrison was injured during training, tearing a medial collateral ligament. She was undeterred by this setback, and despite the pain she forged ahead and won in London, reaching her goal of becoming the first American – male or female – to win an Olympic gold medal in judo. Through her athletic achievements and her decision to speak publicly about the sexual abuse she endured from a former coach, Harrison has become a mentor, role model, and inspiration.
The Wilma Rudolph Courage Award is presented to a female athlete who exhibits extraordinary courage in her athletic performance, demonstrates the ability to overcome adversity, makes significant contributions to sports and serves as an inspiration and role model for others. This award was first given in 1996 to Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Last year, the Visa Women’s Ski Jumping Team received the award.