Having planted roots in Florida since 2018, Kayla Harrison was one of many affected by the recent condo collapse tragedy in Surfside, Fla. With the platform afforded her by the PFL, the American Top Team standout is setting out to do her part to provide aid to those affected by the collapse.
Following her recent first-round win over Cindy Dandois — a victory that cemented Harrison’s spot in the league playoffs for a third straight season — Harrison capped off her post-fight interview with a plea for people to donate and do what they can to assist with disaster relief.
As of this weekend, 24 are confirmed to have died in the Surfside condo collapse, with the number of missing now at 121. No survivors have been found since June 24.
MMA Fighting spoke to Harrison about her involvement with disaster relief efforts and why this particular tragedy struck so close to home.
“What I do is very selfish — I step into cages and I fight people for money — but I think as athletes, as role models, as entertainers, we have this amazing opportunity to use our platform to do good, and I try to do that with my foundation and in other areas of my life,” Harrison said.
“The thing is that I now live in Florida. Miami, now I consider it a part of my home. I’ve been a nomad. I’ve gone from Ohio to Boston, Boston to Florida. But this is where I’m raising my kids, so when tragedy strikes somewhere close to you, I think it’s important that you do your part. So I’m making a donation on behalf of the Fearless Foundation to the Surfside Hardship Fund, and then also I’m going to work with the Shul of Bal Harbor Central Emergency Fund.”
Through her Fearless Foundation, a project founded by Harrison dedicated to using education and sport to support survivors of child sexual abuse, Harrison is working alongside the aforementioned funds to drive donations to the cause of helping with search and rescue efforts in Miami.
According to Harrison, the PFL is also donating $10,000 to the Red Cross. The upcoming PFL playoffs are set to take place this August at Hard Rock Live at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Fla.
“More than anything, what I want — this isn’t a PR move, I just want people to donate and do what they can,” Harrison said. “They don’t have to donate through me, they can donate to whatever they want, however they want. But there are people’s lives who have been affected and who have been changed forever by this and it’s right here in my backyard, so I want people to help and do what they can because it sucks, you know?”
Harrison’s pre-MMA journey took her all over the United States to train, culminating in her making history as the first American judoka to ever win Olympic gold when she did so at the London 2012 games, and the first-ever to repeat the feat when she did it again in Rio de Janeiro four years later.
One of her training stops took her to Massachusetts, where she witnessed the impact of one of the state’s most horrific tragedies, the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013. While Harrison is hesitant to compare the two incidents, she hopes that the Miami community rallies in the same manner that the Boston community famously did in the wake of that awful day.
“It’s obviously very different, but I actually lived in Boston — I lived in the Back Bay very close to the finish line when the Boston Marathon bombing happened,” Harrison said. “I kind of got that same feeling, like my throat tightened and I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is terrible.’ It’s scary. One of my very good friends worked right downtown and I remember being panicked thinking, ‘Oh my God, is she okay,’ trying to get a hold of people. I remember that panic setting in and I have empathy for the people who are going through that same wave of emotions.
“I also remember how amazing the Boston community came together and really embodied how you can take a tragedy and make something good out of it. The community came together, they became literally ‘Boston Strong’ and I hope something similar to that happens down here with Surfside. I think that people who are not directly affected, all we can do is wrap our arms around them and bring them up and support them however we can and let them know that they’re not alone. Whether that’s through money, whether that’s through volunteering, whether that’s through speaking out, talking about what’s happening, whatever we can do to help, I think that it’s important that we surround our community right now, because it’s scary.”
Click here if you’d like to donate to the Surfside Hardship Fund and The Shul of Bal Harbour Central Emergency Fund through Harrison’s Fearless Foundation, with the goal of providing aid to the search and rescue effort in Miami.