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September 15, 2022

Haya Jumaa becomes first Canadian to ever reach 1st place in karate world rankings  

The 28-year-old Ontarian athlete made karate history in June, as she became the first Canadian to ever reach the top spot in her category in the World Karate Federation ranking. Her consistent success and medals in the female kumite –61 kg division paid off as she surpassed all her division’s opponents in ranking. 

Although getting to the first place ranking in the world is an impressive achievement, the tremendous challenges that Haya had to face to put herself in a winning position make her journey even more impressive. 

After a car crash in December 2019, she fought to gain her physical and mental abilities back. The goal: qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where karate entered as a sport for the first time. Even though the journey was full of setbacks, not being able to qualify, she overcame the challenge to become the number 1 Female kumite –61kg athlete and top ranked Canadian of all time. 

A born martial artist 

Haya Jumaa was born into martial arts. Both her parents were high level martial artists themselves before she was even born. Her father paved the way to her success as a World Karate Champion himself. From the age of 4, she developed her abilities in karate, taekwondo and kickboxing, placing 5th at the Junior Olympics in taekwondo in 2010 and winning bronze at the Junior World Karate Championships in 2011 for United Arab Emirates. She joined Karate Canada in 2013 when she moved to Canada with her family. 

The bumpy Olympic qualification journey 

In 2019, with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in sight, Haya was a strong contender to qualify for the event. However, a turn of fate proved to be one of the biggest challenges she’d have to face.  On December 4th, 2019, she and her family were on a car ride on the highway, when their car was hit, sending the car rolling over 5 times.  

Her parents and brother suffered severe concussions, and although she escaped with only a light concussion, she injured her back gravely, making it hard and painful for her to move. Her father was the most affected as his cervical spine was broken and had to go through spinal surgery, leaving him in a wheelchair. Because both her parents needed support, Haya had to spend a lot of her time taking care of her parents, all while pursuing her education and getting ready to qualify for the Olympics. 

The way back to training was a challenge for Haya, who had overcome pain and heal herself while getting ready for qualifications. Her coach, her father, could barely move and couldn’t follow her to trainings so they had to adapt and train in the residential building’s gym. 

In January 2020 she went on to travel to compete at a K1 Premier League event Chile, on a risky trip in order to keep her Olympic standing. With her body still hurting and her mind being preoccupied by the wellbeing of her recovering parents, she admits she didn’t perform well. After a comforting talk with her parents, she put her focus back on the big goal. She also reminded herself of her main source of inspiration: her parents! This mindset reset was what drove her to focus on healing and get back to the level she was used to perform at.  

In March 2020, she travelled to another K1 Premier League tournament that counted in the Olympic standing, this time in Austria where she won silver. The next event was later in the month, so she travelled to UAE for a training camp before the K1 Premier League Rabat event. Her parents now feeling good enough to be able to fly decided to travel with her to help with her preparation. However, at the last minute, the world shut down and the Rabat event was cancelled due to COVID, leaving Haya and her family stuck in Dubai, with no flights home. 

Then the Olympics were pushed back to 2021. This gave Haya a new opportunity to heal and prepare for the last steps of the qualification process. Sitting at #4, her chances of being chosen to represent Canada were optimistic, however, not guaranteed. At the last qualification event in Paris 2021, she was only a hair’s breadth to qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Sadly, she wasn’t able to qualify for this historic karate event. 

The comeback 

This didn’t stop Haya’s training. She kept on with her routine, training usually twice a day, making sure she got enough rest and focusing on mental health and physical recovery to continue training at the highest of levels. 

Proof of her fighter’s character and champion’s mindset, she was able to move past the disappointment and her resilience paid off from September 2021. She would push through for her parents who sacrificed so much, and for the pride of representing Canada. In the K1 Premier League Cairo 2021 event, she won a silver medal, then won a bronze medal in October at the K1 Premier League Moscow 2021 event.  

Still hungry for more, she became Pan American Champion in October 2021 in Uruguay with a dominant performance putting her at the top of the continent’s best fighters. She then came close to a podium at the 2021 World championships, finishing 5th, right at the bottom of the podium. In April 2022 she won a bronze medal at the K1 Premier League Matosinhos 2022 event. 

As the reigning champion, she approached the 2022 Pan American Championships in May 2022 with the goal of extending her dominance on the category in her division. Her stellar performance allowed her to keep her position at the top of the podium, becoming back-to-back Pan American Champion and reaching the top rank in the world. 

World Games 

2022 was a special World Games year for Canada. Canadians were qualified in Karate events for the first time in history, Haya being the first of the 3 athletes to qualify to represent Canada, the qualification process being decided by world rankings. She won 2 of her 3 matches in her pool, tied with 2 other athletes, missing the medal rounds just by the number of points scored. 

What’s next? 

Growing up in a Martial Arts family she knows the impact the martial arts have had on her life, and she wishes to give back. She wants to teach and contribute to the promotion of the sport and martial art she loves, so that many more people can enjoy its benefits. She also wants to raise awareness for a health active lifestyle and inciting kids to move and join a sport. 

If you ask her about her motivation and long-time goals, her answer comes quick. She wants to be a positive role model for the next generation of karate kids. A good athlete, a good person and a strong and beautiful mind. 


*Note that at the time of publishing, WKF ranking has changed 


Learn more from Haya Jumaa’s brush with death: https://www.cbc.ca/playersvoice/entry/picking-up-the-pieces-after-disaster-strikes