Picking up the pieces after disaster strikes

Picking up the pieces after disaster strikes

In a matter of seconds, life turned upside down

By Haya Jumaa for CBC Sports
July 5, 2020

It is strange how our lives can change in an instant. Sometimes for the better, and sometimes not. Up until December 4th 2019, my life had been a glorious string of winning Karate competitions, and achieving the status of an Olympic competitor for Canada. Considering my background as a Muslim from the Middle East, this would surely have been a real coup for our family. However, fate played a trick, not only on me, but my family as well.

The Jumaa family at a tournament immediately  before their accident. (submitted by Haya Jumaa) The Jumaa family at a tournament immediately before their accident. (submitted by Haya Jumaa)

On that December day, a person drove directly into our car, hitting the rear end on the driver’s side. I was sitting in the backseat on the driver side while the car rolled over five times. This accident, which happened on Hwy 407, in Etobicoke, caused severe injury to my parents, my brother and myself. There was a police report, based upon the accident video from the highway camera.

In a matter of seconds, life turned upside down. At first, none of us remembered what had happened.

I recall waking up to my Mom and brother,  calling out my name loudly: “Haya are you ok?... do you hear us?” I couldn't answer, because I was choking, wedged between the back seat and the trunk. My recollection of what happened in the aftermath remains foggy. I think my head was in between two things, and my father was on top of me, grabbing me with both hands. He protected me as much as he could, while the car was getting smashed mostly on him. His whole body was bruised. He couldn't move, due to the pain in his neck.

Haya Jumaa tending to her father, post crash. (submitted by Haya Jumaa) Haya Jumaa tending to her father, post crash. (submitted by Haya Jumaa)

We were very lucky that some bystanders came to break the doors open, and help us get out. I managed to escape very quickly. My poor father was the last one to come out of the wreckage. People were holding each  of us until the emergency cars arrived and we were taken to Etobicoke hospital ER.

My parents and brother had severe concussions, and my father’s cervical spine was broken. I managed to escape with very light first-degree concussion, but my back was injured, and it was so difficult for me to move or turn. My father needed to be transferred to Trillium hospital for spinal surgery.

There was a strange, contradictory feeling in the moment I woke up to the sound of my mom and brother being helped. It was difficult, and at the same time joyful. It was a blessing to be saved, but it was very stressful. My mind raced to the future: What will happen to my Olympic dream now? Will I be able to continue competing before the qualification ends? Will I be able to continue my education?


One week after the accident, I found myself in the hospital beside my parents. I was especially concerned about my father who was in the recovery room after his surgery.  I had to attend the Olympic Media summit in Toronto for three days with team Canada.  My body was still very sore, bruised, and painful, but I decided to join my Canadian teammates  in order to keep myself in that athletic environment.

Jumaa left hospital to attend media day and photography session, then returned to hospital. (Image by Chris Young, CP) Jumaa left hospital to attend media day and photography session, then returned to hospital. (Image by Chris Young, CP)

After my media day finished, I went back to Mississauga to check on my parents at the hospital, and then back late again to Team Canada at the hotel, to get three or four hours of sleep. The next day, I tried my best to remain focused and in the zone, but it was very difficult.  I was feeling dizzy. Fifteen days later, my father was out of the hospital. He came home in a wheelchair. At that time, we didn’t have a Personal Support Worker, and so I was taking care of both my father and mother. My father needed help with his showering and eating. He couldn’t lift his hand to his mouth to eat. My brother helped too, even though he was not feeling well himself.  Compared to our parents, my brother and I were in far better health condition.

Haya Jumaa's parents  resumed their coaching work as soon as physically able. (submitted by Haya Jumaa) Haya Jumaa's parents resumed their coaching work as soon as physically able. (submitted by Haya Jumaa)

The new competition season started, and I had an Olympic qualifier competition in Chile on January 10th, which I had to attend to maintain my Olympic ranking.  I started getting physiotherapy and chiropractic treatments, mixed in with some light static training.  I pushed myself to return to form.

My back was not at all good.  I felt nauseous and dizzy in training, even though I wasn’t doing much. I trained in the small studio gym in our building.

Despite their own pain; my father in his wheelchair and mother with her injured neck and concussion, the two of them came with me to the gym. They sat and advised me about what to work on in preparation for returning to competition.


The trip to Chile so soon after the accident was quite risky for me. My parents sent a close friend who they trusted, to accompany me, because they were very worried about me being alone while I was still in bad condition. This amazing person (who prefers to go unnamed) left his family and kids behind and came with me for the week.


I did not perform well.  I lost at the competition. I wasn’t myself at all. My mind and body were not connected. My reaction time was slow.
I don’t know what happened to me.  Even loud noises were painful to me at the venue. I did not feel like myself in the warm up area of the competition. Everything was wrong.  My mind was preoccupied with my parents in Toronto, and I was just feeling bad about my performance. My parents called to comfort me after my fight. They told me it was good that I went to test myself and my body after the accident. I completely agreed with them.
Even though it was a long trip to take, my parents still supported me, financially and mentally, just as they had always done. I decided to reset my mind,  think of the big goal and keep working. I went back home to continue with my rehab treatments. I started feeling better and more confident. Slowly.

Jumaa on her way to silver medal at Olympic qualifying tournament in Austria, March 2020. (submitted by Haya Jumaa) Jumaa on her way to silver medal at Olympic qualifying tournament in Austria, March 2020. (submitted by Haya Jumaa)

I returned to training, despite the pain, pushing myself while my parents were my source of motivation: I will do this for them! I trained very hard and overcame the pain.  I travelled to a one-week training camp in Austria, before the K1 premier league Olympic qualification tournament.  I won the silver medal. My ranking went back up to #4 In the WKF premier league standing.  My Olympic ranking was #5.

My father, who usually travels with me to tournaments, couldn’t come. But both parents were  in contact by phone. Three months after the accident, my father was able to walk. He just needed a neck brace collar. No more wheelchair. My mom is still suffering. She has blood pressure problems now, and the concussion is still there, but they decided to travel to Dubai with me in mid March. I needed to be there for a training week, then from Dubai to Rabat for the final Olympic qualifier event.

Rabat was cancelled due to COVID-19. Now I am here in the UAE with my parents. Stuck here since March because there are no flights to return home.


However, I’m continuing with my training and preparation, and keeping my Olympic dream alive. The Olympic Games are postponed till 2021, but this gives me time to fully recover. And my coaches who are also my parents? They are helping me prepare harder and stronger.

Like we used to do, before that moment turned our lives upside down.

(Top, large image submitted by Haya Jumaa)

The Haya Jumaa edition

Q: The best book you've  read? 
A: History of Canada

Q: Must-listen podcast? 
A:  93.5

Q: Best advice you ever received?
A: To believe in myself & not to trust easily.

Q: If your life is a movie, what would it be called?
A: How I overcame obstacles in Canada & still affected....

Q: Word or phrase you over use? 
A: Be patient & keep your faith strong in God

Q: Skill you wish you had? 
A: Hurdling (because I love running)   

Q: Something no one would guess about you? 
A: I have never consumed alcohol at anytime in my life.

Q: What scares you? 
A: The Unknown.

Q: Who gets an invite to your ultimate influential dinner party?
A: Mom, Dad, my brother , and three other people who stood by me during difficult times.

Q: What makes you cry? 
A: Injustice.

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