Leave it up to hard work, tunnel vision focus, thriving in adversity, perhaps a sign from universe … or a literal sign. “I always tell people it was like a sign from the universe, because no one in my family does karate,” recalls Monika Klisara, gold medalist for Team Canada at the 2010 Canada Games and 2018 Commonwealth Karate Championships. “You know when you pass by a plaza, and you look at those big signs … I just read, ‘karate,’ and I was like, that’s what I want to do.”
Of course, no journey can just be that simple. Klisara’s first couple of competitions didn’t go her way, but at seven years old, her ability to batten down the hatches and focus in on her goals came forward. “I remember consistently telling myself that even when I was in practice … I have to win the next one because I don’t ever want to feel like that again. I went to my third competition and won gold … and just from that point on, I was like, I can tell myself anything.”
After earning her black belt at 12 years old and competing on the international scale at 14, Klisara hit another hurdle – the COVID-19 pandemic and her Olympic dreams on hold as karate did not make its intended debut at the Tokyo 2020 Games. “That was gut wrenching and heartbreaking … there’s millions and millions of karate athletes across the world that felt that shame as well … we never know, it may happen in the future again.”
That type of mindset from her 7-year-old self helped guide Klisara through the pandemic, when karate didn’t seem to be in the cards for the immediate future. During a time of transition, Klisara looked into sports outside of karate like mixed martial arts or boxing. “I think what made me kind of slowly transition into other martial arts would be after COVID … it brought a huge stop to my karate training. And it kind of made me realize that I can’t have all my eggs in one basket.” Luckily, her training in karate gave her options. “There’s a whole plethora of different sports that you can kind of transition into, especially coming from a martial art because you’re using your full body.”
“It was very difficult for me to see a light at the end of the tunnel … the best thing that happened [during the pandemic] was being able to explore more of my likes and how I develop and function in the outside world,” explains Klisara. “It’s always just kind of getting myself out there and let me see what I can do with the limitations that are set out.”
But amazingly, WWE tryouts weren’t one option that Klisara was prepared for. “I was a little nervous going in, but they recruited us and came in to see those athletic abilities … I’m like 110 pounds, so I don’t know how I’m going to be a wrestler,” she recalls.
Whatever her athletic path may be, Klisara knows one thing: bet on yourself. “Knowing that whatever path I’m taking is the path that I wanted to be on. Whatever is happening on the outside, it’s mostly just background noise … I trust and was so confident in myself and where I was going … I knew if I can properly prepare and plan to go where I want to be, then it doesn’t matter whatever is happening on the outside.”
“Believe in yourself. That’s the one thing that I think has taken me so far, is trust what you’re doing and trust that you can take yourself there if you put in the work.”
Tune in to Episode #123 of The Athletes Podcast for more on Monika Klisara, how she controls her emotions during competition, drowning out outside noise, long-term goals and how she prepares for competition (which you won’t want to miss!).