Two-time Olympic judo champion Kayla Harrison was heralded as a hero Saturday as she joined Middletown Mayor Larry Mulligan Jr. in helping open a new martial arts studio in the Butler County city where she spent her youth.
“This is always where my heart will be. This is where I grew up and this is what I’ll always call home and I miss it dearly,” Harrison, who now lives in Florida, told the Journal-News.
In October the rising MMA superstar will fight in Vegas in the mixed martial arts Professional Fighters League (PFL) semifinal tournament match.
Harrison predicted that match will be her stepping stone to the PFL national championship match in New York City’s Madison Square Garden on New Year’s Eve where the PFL champ goes home $1 million richer.
But Saturday she was content with congratulatory fist bumps with boys and girls taking martial arts classes at the new Budokai Academy of Martial Arts at 1725 Yankee Road. More than 150 turned out for the ribbon cutting ceremony and celebration of the new business.
She talked of her love and pride from her days as Middletown Schools “Middie” and the foundational lessons she learned here about working toward excellence.
Academy co-owner Melissa Gerhardt said it was a thrill to have Harrison at the grand opening, adding the former Middletown Middie’s extraordinary journey to international fame continues to inspire local youngsters, especially girls.
“She means everything to Middletown and Butler County. She is an awesome female that young girls can look up to for anything not just in sport but in life because she has such a good personality, she has a great background and she is one tough lady,” said Gerhardt.
Harrison posed for photos with fans, signed T-shirts, photos and artwork, sharing laughs with everyone who waited in line.
“One of the things that really helped shape me into the woman I am is at the (Middletown) school system they always had a saying of ‘make it a great day,’” she said.
“In life there are ups, there are downs. There are trials and tribulations – life is a roller coaster – especially in the life of an athlete. You know you win some and you lose some, you have to pick yourself up and dust yourself off,” Harrison said.
“But for me I’ve always remembered that (saying) and every single day I try to make it a great day because I’m a Middie,” she said.
For more information on the new martial arts studio, call 513-324-5565 or go to its website, www.budokaiacademy.com.
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