Kayla Harrison is the first person from the United States to win an Olympic gold medal in any judo event — ever. That's clearly an impressive feat, and one for which Harrison has been on a non-stop P.R. tour ever since, criss-crossing the country touting her achievement.
However, what's even more impressive is how down-to-Earth the 22-year-old Olympian is. NESN Daily sat down for a chat with Harrison which will air Saturday night, but NESN.com, too, took some time to chat with her, hoping to glean some additional insight into her day-to-day life and gold-medal run.
Take a look at NESN.com's exclusive conversation with Harrison below:
So tell me a little bit about your pre- and post-match routine.
I'm a very sort of superstitious athlete. I have a lot of little ticks. I always wear the same thing every time I fight. I have the same playlist I listen to every time I fight. I like to eat the same foods the morning that I wake up. But the Olympics was more about staying in the right mindset so all day Jimmy [Pedro, her coach] was saying to me and I was saying to myself, "You know, Kayla Harrison, Olympic champion." And he would say to me, "Are you tougher than this girl? Are you stronger than this girl? Do you want this more?" And, it was just about staying in that zone and competing at my highest abiltiies. He kept saying that if I unleashed myself that I would be an Olympic champion.
What are those foods? What are those clothes? What's on the playlist?
I like to eat oatmeal, some eggs, a little bit of protein, a little bit of carbs. Maybe some peanut butter toast or something like that. Apple juice, water, Gatorade. Always continue to have a lot of fluids all throughout the day and then just snacking throughout the day. My playlist is an all-Eminem playlist when I fight. I listen to country music up until I get to the venue, but once I start my warmup Eminem gets me going. My first song that I listen to is "Sing for the Moment" and it's almost exactly five minutes so that's what I use to run with because I need about a five-minute run to warm up. I have lucky socks, I have my lucky belt, I have my lucky t-shirt. I have all of that lucky stuff that I wear all throughout the day.
Tell me what it's like to be engaged to a fellow judoka.
It's different, you know. We both love judo, but we're both at very different times in our lives. Now, he's a firefighter. He's focused on his career. I'm sort of trying to figure it out what it is that I'm going to do next. But it's fun because I can go home and say, you know "I bombed Bobby with Uchi Mata" and he'll know what that means. Even though that never happens.
Not that this would ever happen, but if there were a grudge match between the two of you, who would pull that out?
Don't tell him I said this, but he would probably beat me. He's pretty big and he's a black belt, too, so he knows what he's doing.
How has your life changed since winning the gold medal?
Definitely. I don't know if I've slept a full eight hours of sleep since I've been home. And we're going on since the end of September so almost two months now. But it's been crazy, a lot of fun stuff. I got to go to the White House. I went home to Middletown, Ohio and we had a big parade. A lot of really touching things too like the Middletown Foundation is going to give out a $25,000 scholarship in my name now, which is the sort of thing that I want to have as my legacy. That's the sort of thing that I want to leave behind.
But fun stuff too. I'm going to the Country Music Awards with Kicks Brooks. I'm doing a lot of stuff like that. I'm going to a movie premiere, going to the Celtics. I went to a Patriots game and I went to a Red Sox game. They both gave me jerseys with my name on it so a lot of fun stuff.
Tell me about the MCL injury that you had leading up to the Olympics and how you overcome that physically as well as mentally.
I was actually in Japan training with the national team and the national team was training at the national training center and it was probably some of the hardest training that I've ever done. To put it in perspective, an average day at our club we do maybe with our morning workout and our night workout combined we do maybe 15 rounds of Randori, which is like sparring. And while we were in Japan, there are so many girls there it's just sort of a Meccha of judo.
We were doing 30 rounds of practice twice a day. I mean we weren't doing every single round, but it was ridiculous. We were doing a ton of training and I remember it was probably my fourth day in and it was my very first round with a girl and our legs were kind of got tangled up and I just heard a pop and I was on my back really fast. So my coach Big Jim was actually with me so made the decision that we're going to fly back home, we're going to get an MRI, we're going to see what's going on.
Right away went to the doctor, found out it was partially torn. And it's about an eight-week road to recovery. I was fortunate enough the Olympic committee and USA Judo really believed in me and believed that I still had a very good shot at winning. They flew out a physical therapist who stayed with me for three weeks and we were in the pool every day working on rehab and in the gym every day. So three times a day I was doing something to make my knee feel better.
Just mentally, every night even before I hurt my knee I would visualize myself winning the Olympics so I sort of just added visualizing my knee healing. I would picture everything coming back together and my knee perfectly heeled. I was actually back on the mat in six weeks so I was back on the mat, ready to go, 100 percent. It was actually a good thing in hindsight because it allowed all of my aching pains and little tiny things to heal, and allow my body that one big rest before the last final push towards the Olympics. Things happen for a reason.
Photo via Facebook/Kayla Harrison