Judo saved my life.
The sport gave me a goal, gave me something to wake up for. If I didn’t have that when I was a teenager, I might not even be here.
When I was 16, having just moved to Boston to train with the Olympic coaches Jimmy Pedro and his father, I’d also just revealed to my mom that my first coach had sexually abused me. It was a tumultuous time.
Every day I thought about quitting the sport.
I thought about running away, of being a Barista in New York where no-one would know me or look at me.
I struggled with thoughts of suicide for years, during the abuse and after the abuse, but having a goal — the dream of being an Olympic champion — and strong people around helped in my darkest hour.
It speaks volumes about my coaches and my teammates that they were able to drag me from rock bottom to the pinnacle.
When I was first in Boston living with the judo team, I didn’t want to lift weights, I didn’t want to go to school, or go to therapy, but I had no choice. If I wanted to be in the judo house I had to follow the rules.
There were days when my teammates would drag me out of bed and drive me to school and they would watch me walk through the school doors.
Jimmy, the coach, didn’t usually take kids who were under 18, but these were special circumstances. My mom had nowhere else to go and I’m really thankful he said OK. A lot of people wouldn’t have considered having a 16-year-old car wreck.
I had to pay the rent so I worked in a hardware store for 50 hours a week, as well as going to school and training, before eventually working at the judo school and that is when judo became work and play.
I’d always dreamed of being an Olympic champion. From the age of six I wanted to be the best in the world at something.
When I was little, I saw a karate commercial on TV and so I was running around, kicking things in the house, breaking them, and my mom — who did judo as self defense — decided that, if I was going to do martial arts, judo was the safest.