How a soul-searching journey to Japan landed Canada's Hana Furumoto-Deshaies in Pan Am Games dojo
Karate athlete to compete in 1st-ever multi-sport event after skipping Tokyo 2020
Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, Hana Furumoto-Deshaies faced a life-altering choice.
The Canadian karate athlete could pursue a spot on the national team for what might have been one of her few opportunities to compete at the Olympics. Moreover, the Games would be in her mom's home country of Japan, where her family still resides.
However, Furumoto-Deshaies was worn. She'd been in karate since she was five, and recounts now being "drained emotionally, mentally, physically and financially." She was also realistic about her chances of making Team Canada.
"I knew that if I tried for the Olympics and I wasn't going to be chosen, which was a high possibility, that I was just gonna be completely devastated and be like, who am I? Like already anticipating a bit of depression," she told CBC Sports in a recent interview.
And so Furumoto-Deshaies bowed out of Olympic qualifying. Instead, she moved to Osaka with the goal of learning more about her Japanese side.
"I'm just going to go do what I feel like is the right thing to do, which was to disconnect from the sport and get to know myself, my culture. … I trained a little bit at the beginning, but then I stopped. I learned Japanese over there, worked in Japanese as well, just got to know myself in the different way," she said.
"That gave me so much more confidence. When I came back, I was like, I don't need this sport to define me."
1st multi-sport Games
Now 27 and ranked fourth worldwide in her weight class, Furumoto-Deshaies is off to her first multi-sport competition at the Pan Am Games in Santiago, Chile. Karate events run from Friday through Sunday, with live coverage available on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.
Furumoto-Deshaies, a native of Gatineau, Que., first started karate at five years old on the insistence of her dad after she was bullied by the other kids. She says she hasn't been bullied since.
Still, she wasn't immediately enthralled with the sport. The nuance and refined technique of karate requires full attention — something a younger Furumoto-Deshaies couldn't quite muster.
The spark was only lit when she entered her first competition.
"The competitiveness of the environment really drove me to improve myself as an athlete, but also as a human being," she said.
Rock Guindon, a former national team member who now runs a dojo in Gatineau, first met Furumoto-Deshaies when she was about 10 years old and has coached her ever since.
Guindon, 36, said he knew his student possessed gold-medal potential early on.
"I never had a doubt," he told CBC Sports. "She was training with me and some other athletes and she was the youngest. And every time she was training with us she was like, 'OK, I want to beat you guys.' She was not even talking about doing tournaments and beating the girls at the tournament. She was like, 'I want to be better than you.'"
Piling up victories
For around a decade, Furumoto-Deshaies and Guindon worked together even while the latter was still pursuing his own athletic career. Meanwhile, Furumoto-Deshaies began piling up victories at the national and Pan Am junior levels.
By all accounts, it was a successful partnership. Furumoto-Deshaies says now that Guindon is the No. 1 person who helped lift her to where she is today.
But as the Tokyo Olympics approached, something wasn't quite right.
"I was in a space where there was kind of mental blockage, like I feel like even if I try everything to achieve that goal, there is something deeper that I need to figure out," Furumoto-Deshaies said. "I grew up in Quebec, but my mom's Japanese and she raised me with her culture. So there was a lot of cultural luggage I'd say that I needed to unpack."
In Osaka, Furumoto-Deshaies first moved in with her mom's family before splintering out on her own. She worked as a waitress at a high-end Italian restaurant, and even ditched karate for surfing.
After about three years, Furumoto-Deshaies returned to Gatineau. She quickly met with Guindon, who laid out a two-year plan leading into the Pan Am Games.
Home in the dojo
Guindon said he views his longtime student among the medal favourites at the Pan Am Games.
"I have expectation that she can do it, but we don't want to take that kind of pressure too much," he said.
It's also not the end of the road for Furumoto-Deshaies, who could choose to compete for another world-championship cycle.
"After that she wants to [take up] coaching. She wants to give back at the dojo with the kids," Guindon said.
In the course of her life, Furumoto-Deshaies has called both Gatineau and Osaka home. But there is one place where she feels her most comfortable — the dojo.
"It's like a mini lab where you spend a lot of hours working on yourself and where you develop perseverance," she said. "You don't mind making more mistakes. I feel comfortable and I feel like now my mindset is more like intentional as well. Before it was more of I'm just going to train, get stuff I need to do done. Now it's more, 'OK how can I make this more efficient?'"
Karate for Furumoto-Deshaies is no longer just a means to scare away bullies, or endless hours working on technique, or even competition.
Now, it's a vessel through which Furumoto-Deshaies aims to improve in all aspects of life.
"To have that long journey through ups and downs and to be able to improve myself, it gives feedback for me on how I want to become a better human being through that lens."