A Ukrainian living in Vancouver is trying to develop the sport of karate in her husband’s native nation of Jamaica, but has had to put those plans on hold as war rages in her home country.
Valentyna Zolotarova, born in Odesa, Ukraine, living in Vancouver and competing for the Jamaican national team, is trying to help Jamaica Karate retain its sport federation status.
She says World News it focuses on friends and family directly affected by the Russian invasion.
“When I started fundraising, I was very confident that I could put all my energy into meeting the demand,” Zolotarova said.
“My heart shattered into a million pieces on February 24. I have continued all my responsibilities focusing on a zombie for the past few weeks while worrying about my loved ones back home,” he said. she declared.
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Some of his family members managed to cross the border to other countries, which was a small source of comfort.
However, Zolotarova said there were other athletes she knew who stayed – many of whom were involved in the military or tried to help in other ways.
“We always say politics should be out of sport, but at the same time there are situations in life where athletes have no choice but to get involved. Even if you choose not to or say nothing, it has consequences,” she said.
Although the cause has taken a back seat, she remains close to his heart as she is also a Jamaican citizen by marriage.
“As the mother of three mixed-race young boys, it is very important to show them pride that even their Ukrainian mother has chosen to represent Jamaica. They must be really proud of their Jamaican heritage,” she explained.
“I hope this (the campaign) will also have a positive impact on the lives of my children. Not just in terms of sport, but in how they see and accept their identity.
The campaign has slowed down for Zolotarova, whose karate career has spanned four countries since she started at the age of six, but it won’t be stopping anytime soon.
“It’s my life…it’s my greatest passion,” she said.
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Shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, her father took the family to Cypress, where she continued karate and became the national junior children’s champion.
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Soon after, she moved to British Columbia and competed for the Canadian junior team for several years, before getting married and starting a family in Jamaica.
She decided to compete for Jamaica in the Olympic qualifier for Tokyo 2020, but the team didn’t end up qualifying as only ten spots are available for athletes in the games.
The mother-of-three still competes at the senior level, but has discovered a new passion coaching the next generation of athletes.
“The competition was much fiercer, it was my biggest achievement for me personally. As a representative of Jamaica, it is now more about what she does for the future of Jamaica,” a- she declared.
“So I’m trying to pave the way for promising young athletes in Jamaica, as well as Jamaicans abroad.”
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Karate is still considered a young sport on the international stage, making its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020.
Zolotarova said the Jamaica Karate Federation was struggling to maintain its status due to a lack of funding.
“In some other countries there are a lot of members and those members pay dues which then contribute to the cost of the federation,” she explained.
“But in Jamaica, the number of karate practitioners is still very low. That’s why I try to help the federation and set up programs for the development of young people.
There are also significant barriers preventing athletes from gaining international competitive experience, which is necessary to qualify for the Olympics or Pan American Games, she explained.
Zolotarova points to a lack of competitions in North, Central and South America compared to Europe, and high travel and entry fees.
She started a GoFundMe to help Jamaica Karate cover her initial federation costs.
But the federation is also struggling to attract new students and practitioners, she said.
More and more opportunities for young Jamaican athletes have slowly arisen, she said, noting the introduction of funded karate schools, equipment grant schemes, travel assistance for competitions and university scholarships – but there is still a long way to go.
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“I think back to my own Olympic journey in 2021 and I remember doing crazy things like buying a one-way ticket to join the tournament because I didn’t have enough money to reach the next one from there. Having lived that, sometimes competing alone or without a team, I know how difficult this journey can be,” Zolatorova said.
“My Jamaican karate family has been very supportive and encouraging throughout these difficult few weeks. They feel my pain and they loved and accepted me as a Jamaican from the start of my karate journey, but they also know that I am a Ukrainian. The first to message me at the start of the war in Ukraine were my Jamaicans. They are praying for my family back home,” she said.
Zolotarova hopes to help organize a Caribbean-Europe-North America training camp in the future.
“Times are tough, but I also pray that we see better days and peaceful times,” she said.
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