Antonia Vinciarelli said when Kayla Harrison of Marblehead won the judo gold medal in the Olympics in London, “I was in tears. I was screaming at my television and going nuts. It was amazing to watch because she did make history and especially as a female, it was unbelievable in the sport of judo.”
Antonia, a 14-year-old freshman at St. Mary’s High School who holds a Blue Belt in judo, has trained regularly with 22-year-old Kayla Harrison at Pedro’s Judo Center in Wakefield for the past six years. Their coach is Lynn native Jim Pedro.
“Sometimes I even get to spar with her and she lets me throw her around and obviously she throws me around,” said Antonia. “I’m so honored and it just humbles you to be training with Kayla, who is the best in the world. She’s so famous now.”
Antonia joined her mother, Denise, a teacher at Lynn Tech, her brother, Dante, a recent St. Mary’s graduate and judo competitor, Todd Collier, an All-Scholastic football player at St. Mary’s, and many other supporters at a gold medal celebration for Harrison Sunday night at the Empire Asian Restaurant and Lounge in Boston.
“When you come to an event like this and you see all the adulation and how proud and happy people are for Kayla, you say, ‘wow,’ and you realize how fortunate you are to have this experience of being around her,” said Antonia, a past Junior Olympic national champion.
Harrison thanked Jim Pedro during her brief remarks at the party.
“I’d like to thank the Pedros, all of them,” Harrison told the large crowd.
Jim Pedro Jr., a four-time Olympian and two-time bronze medalist, said he was grateful to Lynn residents for their support and the congratulatory wishes that he has received since returning from the Olympics.
“I was a Lynn native my whole life, born and raised in Lynn – my dad was a lieutenant on the Lynn Fire Department – my whole life dates back to Lynn, Mass. and I love the city,” said Pedro. “That’s where I’m from and those were some of the best years of my life.”
Pedro said Harrison’s gold medal-winning performance – the first by a female judo competitor from the United States – represents a pinnacle in his coaching career.
“It’s never been done in my sport – to help train a gold medalist in the Olympic Games and quite honestly in one of the hardest sports in the Olympics to win a gold medal in, it’s a dream come true,” said Pedro. “It’s been a lifelong pursuit for myself and my father [Jim Pedro Sr.]; we’ve been chasing the Olympic gold since I was two years old.”
Congressman John Tierney presented a special citation to Harrison at the party.
Kayla Harrison, who was accompanied to the event by her fiancé, Marblehead firefighter Aaron Handy, talked about the response to her victory since returning from London.
“It’s been a whirlwind and overwhelmingly positive,” said Harrison. “Everyone has been so helpful and amazing. I’m a blessed person. I feel really lucky.”
Harrison was an invited guest of the New England Patriots at Monday night’s exhibition game at Gillette Stadium.
“I got to ring the Stock Market bell and I’m going to the Patriots game and will be in Mr. Kraft’s suite, so it’s been crazy but really, really fun,” said Harrison.