BOSTON, June 6, 2011 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The commitment started at 16. She left home, said goodbye to her family and friends, and moved 850 miles away to train. She finished high school online. No senior prom. No graduation ceremony. It's a lot to give up.
For most people the Olympic dream never comes to pass. For Kayla Harrison, 20, it still has not arrived.
However, in 2010, her sacrifices started to make a difference. Harrison, who is originally from Middletown, Ohio, found herself standing on a platform at the 2010 World Judo Championships, accepting a hard-earned gold medal. She was only the fourth American in history to capture the world judo title.
But it didn't stop there. Kayla continued her winning ways, finishing 2010 as the top medal winner on the planet. She blasted into 2011, well on her way to an Olympic berth, winning gold at the Pan American Judo Championships and capturing her sixth U.S. senior national title.
Meanwhile, Travis Stevens, who hails from Tacoma, Wash., is on his way to representing the United States again, this time in the 2012 Olympics. He's been there before, fighting in the 2008 Olympic Games. He didn't medal, but in 2012 things might be different.
Stevens won a silver medal at the Pan American Judo Championships this year, and that is hardly the top of his game. In February, he won the gold medal at Judo's Grand Prix event in Dusseldorf, Germany. It included a dominating win over Ole Bishoff, the German who was also the 2008 Olympic gold medalist in Stevens' division.
Then this past weekend, he became the first American to ever compete for a gold medal at the Moscow Grand Slam. He finished with silver and a strong performance, as well as the satisfaction of accomplishing something no American ever has.
This is Team FORCE judo. This is the program that won five U.S. Senior National Judo Championship gold medals this year, making it the premier judo program in the United States. It is one of several Olympic training programs in the United States and its international success places this single club above most judo programs of other nations.
Team FORCE is based in Wakefield, Mass., a town of 25,000 just outside Boston. It's not exactly the place you'd expect to find one of the most successful judo programs on the planet.
And when it comes to medalists on the world stage, it is Team FORCE that is leading the U.S. charge on the international judo stage.
The program leans heavily on the direction of its father-son coaching tandem, themselves no strangers to success. The son, Jimmy Pedro, is a two-time Olympic medalist and a World Judo Champion. He was trained by his father, Jimmy Pedro Sr. Together they are training the next generation of judo champions.
Reigning world champion Kayla Harrison pointed out that the elder Pedro coached all Olympic judo medalists from the United States in the last 15 years, as well as the last three world championship medalists from the United States, including his son.
"Jimmy and Big Jim (Pedro Sr.) have paved the way for American judoka, especially Big Jim," Harrison said. "He knows this sport like the back of his hand and is a major part of my success. Without him, I would not be where I am today."
"Our Team FORCE coaching staff is second to none," said the younger Pedro, reiterating Harrison's assertion of the quality of Team FORCE's coaching staff. "We have world-class coaches who live and breathe judo."
However, it isn't just the father-son duo that is working toward the success of their athletes. The coaches aren't beyond calling in for additional help. For example, they work with One to One Strength Training in North Andover, Mass., to ensure their athletes are in peak physical condition.
We also partner with experts to give our athletes a competitive advantage in the areas of strength and conditioning, nutrition, and injury assessment and rehabilitation," Pedro said.
Harrison views the coaching staff at Team FORCE as among the best in the world.
"Team FORCE is unique in many ways," she said. "First and foremost, our coaches focus not only on our skills on the mat, but also on how we are going to succeed outside of the judo realm. You don't get coaches like that, who genuinely care, anywhere else in the world, let alone this country. "
For Travis Stevens, who is currently ranked seventh in the world, the difference is in a professional attitude despite being an amateur athlete.
"We are all professionals," he said. "Every day is a day we use to become better players and better people. The coaching staff works just has hard as the athletes in order to prepare for each and every player, putting together game plans for each of us."
"Our program has high expectations of our athletes," Pedro Jr., said. "We train them specifically to win world and Olympic medals, and totally understand how to develop athletes and peak them for competition."
Contact Clay Morgan, 615-346-9440 (o), 615-670-6989 (c), or email@example.com
About Team FORCE
Team FORCE, based in Wakefield, Mass., is the most successful international judo program in the United States. In 2011, the program won five gold medals at the senior national judo championships. The program also won three medals – one gold, one silver, and one bronze - at the 2011 Pan American Championships and is the home training facility for reigning World Judo Champion Kayla Harrison. Team FORCE currently boasts three athletes ranked in the top 20 in the world – Harrison, Travis Stevens, and Nick Delpopolo. The program is under the direction of Jimmy Pedro, a world judo champion and two-time Olympic medalist. Team FORCE is grateful for the support it receives from the New York Athletic Club and USA Judo, the national governing body for Olympic Judo. For more information, visit . Kayla Harrison's website is .
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