Location: Perpignan, France. Middle of Nowhere Judoka Training Camp.
Before I even open my eyes, my mind is already churning. So many thoughts are running through my head. Rio is always first. What's for breakfast? What's the training menu for today? Am I going to survive this final trip to Europe? Then, when I open my eyes and I try to start moving, the reality of my Olympic judo training sets in. The aching. The throbbing. Swollen knees that won't bend. A hand that is a little tingly and bruised. A shoulder that feels as if an elephant has been on top of it all night it's so numb. I roll out of bed and question my sanity and ask myself the same question I've asked a million times: Why? Why do I put myself and my body through this? And then I go right back to the beginning. Rio.
It may seem bizarre to most, but my entire life has been spent with one purpose in mind. Olympic glory. I realized that dream when I won the women's judo gold medal at the 2012 Olympics, but I also realized I wasn't done. I had more to give. With only two months to go until the competition, I'm feeling so many emotions. The road is almost at an end, but I know this last bit will be the hardest.
Peanut butter, oatmeal, a banana, and some much-needed coffee are in front of me. My teammates and I have gone to the grocery store to get the essentials for an in-room breakfast. We are just too tired to make the walk to the dining hall every morning before training. It's only down the road, but when you're practicing twice a day, every little step counts. We are saving our energy for the wars ahead.
At training, there are about 19 countries, and for me that means 10 rounds with the best women in the world. I tape my hand and shoulder. I put on my knee pad and get in a good stretch. We do the traditional bow in and then get right into it. Two hours later, I am drenched in sweat and my legs feel like they might fall off. I have survived another workout. I have made gains. Big Jim, my coach, and I go over some gripping sequences and discuss slight adjustments that need to be made in my game. He seems pleased with where I am, and I am relieved. I just keep telling myself that this is it. This is all for Rio.
We head back to the room and grab showers before limping our way to lunch. I fuel up good. Chicken. Spinach. Pasta. Anything I can get my hands on to try and reenergize myself. There is still one workout to go — well, one more to go today. I don't think past that because it's just too much for my mind and body to comprehend at this point.
We have one more training camp after this in Croatia. Then we head to the last tournament before the games in Hungary. I am feeling better than I have ever felt. My mind is right. My body is not working now, but I know that it will be on the day that counts. The road to Rio is long, but I know deep down that it will all be worth it. Olympic glory awaits.
Images: Courtesy of Kayla Harrison