Kayla Harrison shares inspiring message with Middletown crowd

It was a series of golden moments for Olympian Kayla Harrison in her hometown Friday as Middletown turned out to honor her with a parade and pre-football game ceremony.

The Butler County city native was beaming first during a press conference at Triple Moon Coffee Company prior to her parade and showed her passion for her hometown throughout the evening’s events.

“I just want to say from the bottom of my heart, thank you for all the support Middletown has given me,” Harrison told the crowd during a pre-game ceremony at Barnitz Stadium just minutes before the Middletown High School football team was to kick off.

“No matter what happens in your life and no matter where you come from if you believe in yourself and you work hard, there is no dream too big, there is nothing that you cannot accomplish and I am living proof of that. So go get your dream,” said the only gold medal winner in Olympic judo from the U.S.

Harrison first won an Olympic gold in London in 2012 and most recently again in Rio’s summer Olympic games.

Harrison grew up in Middletown, then moved to Boston when she was 16 years old to train with Olympic bronze medalist Jimmy Pedro and his father, Jimmy Sr.

Harrison has shared publicly her struggle with the impact of sexual abuse inflicted upon her by her childhood coach Daniel Doyle. Doyle, 16 years her senior, was jailed for 10 years in November 2007 after pleading guilty to abusing Harrison over a three-year period starting when she was 13 years old.

In addition to talking openly about that abuse, Harrison has also launched a foundation aimed at helping victims of abuse.

Middletown is home to another Olympic gold medalist — Jerry Lucas, who won a gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics in men’s basketball.

Hundreds lined the parade route honoring her and led by the Middletown High School marching band – and joined by dozens of youth sports teams – the celebratory line made its way from downtown Middletown to Barnitz Stadium.

Autumn Fugate was among lining South Main Street to catch a glimpse of the world-famous Olympian.

“I think it’s pretty cool that Kayla came from Middletown, Ohio. It’s pretty amazing that somebody won Olympic gold that comes from here,” said Fugate.

Earlier at a press conference Harrison said she is considering starting a career as a professional fighter in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) but is also busy working on two books – one about her personal history and another on a guide to help youngsters recognize possible sexual predators in their lives and how to protect themselves.

“I want kids to read about it (sexual abuse) hear about it and understand that it is not okay,” she said.

(Staff writer Rick McCrabb contributed)

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