Maya Wasowicz – Karate fighter and exceptional athlete
In her coach's opinion, Maya Wasowicz is one of the ten best karate fighters in the world. When the Polish-born athlete moved to New York at the age of eleven, she did not speak a single word of English. Her passion for sports introduced her to karate. Here, she could express herself perfectly. We talked to the Pan-American champion, who was also third in the World Championships, about her unusual career and why the 27-year-old likes to wear BIRKENSTOCKs during victory ceremonies.
From Poland to New York
She brought her passion for sports from Poland. As a child, she spent her summers playing soccer, swimming or simply making up her own games. Everything changed, however, when she moved to New York at the age of 11. “I still remember my first impressions: we crossed the Williamsburg Bridge and when we were about in the middle my father suddenly said “Look to your left” - and I saw the skyline of New York. I was totally amazed. The next thing I remember was a rat in the subway,” she laughs.
Karate as a universal language
The first months were difficult for the young girl. She went to school but didn’t understand a word. By chance, she ended up in a karate school. After a short trial lesson, Maya knew that this would be her future. The fact that she didn’t speak the language played a decisive role: “I didn’t have to speak English, I simply followed the movements of the teacher,” explains Maya.
A pigheaded girl finds her way
Her coach Luis Roja is still by her side: “Maya had a strong character right from the start. When she sets her mind on something, she sees it through, no matter what.” Thanks to these ambitions, she won her first bronze medal in the Youth Pan-American Championships and earned a place in the US youth national team. When she was 18, she moved up to the senior national team with which she won the bronze medal during the world championships in 2016. “I was under immense pressure because I was the last to fight. I simply had to win," Maya explains and shows the decisive photo from the finale.
“Feeling fear is part of losing,” says Maya. For her, fighting is first and foremost fun. She loves to hit and be hit. "There’s a lot of strategy – just like chess. You have to think ahead and be quick. You read your opponent and foresee her next move before she does,” she explains. Karate gave her mental strength and confidence and taught her a lot about herself.
She wants to pass this on to the kids in the dojo, her training center. “Apart from karate training, I want to teach the kids how they can just be themselves. They need to have big dreams. And they need to know that they can achieve anything, as long as they work hard.”
Victory ceremonies with BIRKENSTOCKs
For years, Maya suffered from a painful irritation of the sole of her foot. When she tried on the BIRKENSTOCKs of a friend, she was enthusiastic: “The support of the arch of the foot simply felt incredible!” Since then she has been wearing BIRKENSTOCKs even though her friends make fun of her. “My feet always have to absorb shock when I’m exercising. That tires my feet and BIRKENSTOCKs provide my feet with the necessary support. They are simply extremely comfortable.”
However, her BIRKENSTOCKs did not always go down well with everybody. When she did not bring shoes for after a competition, she went to the victory ceremony in her sandals which was met with irritation – also by her coach. “Since then, I’ve been the girl with BIRKENSTOCKs on the podium,” she laughs and adds: “They’ve simply become part of my style.”
The big goal: the 2021 Olympic Games
Maya fulfilled many of her athletic dreams which her collection of more than 60 medals impressively shows. Her biggest success was the participation in the Pan-American Championships. “But there’s still an even bigger dream,” she explains and smiles, “and that’s taking part in the Olympics in Tokyo.”
Maya is doing everything for this one goal, as, in 2021, karate will be an Olympic discipline for the first time. “That is so much more than only a regular participation in the Olympics: you represent your discipline for the very first time, as the very first person. That is a dream for every athlete.”
She leaves open, however, whether she would also wear her Birkenstocks on the podium...