ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) --It was one of the most controversial trials of 2012. Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State football coach shed light on a problem affecting more than 39 million Americans: sexual abuse. But for one Olympic hopeful it was more than just headlines. We’ll show you how she’s now using her weakest days to make it all the way to the top.
They fight, they push, and they win… to get to the top you have to be one of the best. Today, world champion Kayla Harrison is gearing for gold.
"I’m on the 2012 U.S Olympic judo team," Kayla Harrison, world judo champion, told Ivanhoe.
And she’s vying to become the first American woman to bring home an Olympic gold medal in judo this summer.
I’ve only had two goals my whole life, one is to be world champion and one is to be an Olympic champion," Harrison said.
But the 21-year-old’s dream was first fueled by a nightmare, for three years she lived with a secret. She was sexually abused by her former coach.
"When it first started I was terrified, Harrison said.
Harrison was just 13 years old…
"I didn’t know what to do, what to expect or what to say," Harrison added.
An investigation by ABC’s "20-20" revealed 36 swimming coaches were banned by USA swimming for allegations of sexual misconduct. Last year, Don Peters, who coached the 1984 U.S Olympic gymnastics team, resigned amid allegations of sexual abuse.
"It’s no longer a secret that just happens behind closed doors," Debra Day, a licensed psychologist, told Ivanhoe.
Licensed psychologist Debra Day says some circumstances allow predators to spend long hours with their victims, giving them better chances to act.
"Predators who know what to look for become very good at honing in on those vulnerable children or youth," Dr. Day said.
She says often young girls are groomed into a sexual relationship before they even realize they are involved in it.
"They may know it’s wrong, but be overcome with their feelings and so they become distorted in what they believe is happening," Dr. Day said.
Harrison thought she was in love.
"In my mind it was a full blown relationship. I was brainwashed," Harrison said.
Often a power paradigm is involved. Predators will start to make the victims feel like they are more special than their peers. Just like in Harrison’s case.
"I spent every minute with Daniel and he was really good at making me feel like he was the only one I needed," Harrison said.
The National Council of Youth Sports has been trying to find the best way to screen coaches for at least a decade and the U.S Olympic committee to announce it would centralize and standardize background check programs across all 32 Olympic sports. But Dr. Day says parents can help by looking for unexplained behavioral changes in their child and asking questions.
"Often sexual contact doesn’t happen overnight, it happens over a process," Dr. Day said.
Harrison did what most victims can’t do she pressed charges.
"I realize now that I’m only a victim if I allow myself to be," Harrison added.
She faced her abuser in court.
"I remember February 8th, 2008. As a victim you kind of say your peace and so it was the hardest day of my life," Harrison explained.
Daniel Doyle was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison and banned from judo for life.
"He turned around and he said ‘I love you’ and then I never saw him again," Harrison said.
With the help of her family and current coach Jimmy Pedro, she’s turned her dark days into a positive, ranking second in the world.
"Although it feels like you are in a prison and you can’t get out, you can and there is help out there and there are people who care," Harrison said.
And she’s taking that newfound strength all the way to London.
"I’m mentally tougher than anyone I know and that’s why I’m going to win the Olympics," Harrison concluded.
Harrison will enter the London 2012 Olympic Games as the brightest medal contender for the United States in judo. At least two additional USA swimming coaches have pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct charges with young swimmers since the investigation aired and more are under investigation.
Sources: ESPN, National Council of Youth Sports, ABC NEWS, USA Today,