SFU Physics student representing Canada at Pan American Olympic Qualifier

April 09, 2024

SFU biophysics student Josipa Kafadar has her sights set on Olympic gold. She is one of three athletes selected by Taekwondo Canada to compete at the 2024 Pan American Olympic Qualifier in the Dominican Republic on April 9-10.

Kafadar has practiced taekwondo since she was four years old and has competed on the Canadian national team since 2015. “Taekwondo is unique because it’s combat but it’s more like a game than an actual fight, seeing who can outplay the other person,” she says.

Balancing university studies with training as an elite athlete means a busy schedule that includes strength and conditioning or physiotherapy in the mornings before classes and taekwondo training in the evenings. “It’s hard to balance,” she says, “but it’s fun.”

Kafadar chose biophysics because it combined two of her favourite subjects from high school. Little did she know at the time that it would require a lot of organic chemistry, a subject she says she’s come to appreciate.

Undergraduate research opportunities have helped her branch out into other fields such as molecular biology and nuclear physics, which has helped her better understand the direction she wants to take after she finishes her degree. Involvement with the Physics Student Association has helped her connect with other students.

She credits the discipline she’s developed as an athlete for helping her keep on track. “I can’t procrastinate because I will get too stressed. Sometimes I say hey, I don't want to do this, but I need to do it. It's going to benefit me. I'm not doing this for anyone else.”

“It’s easier when I make time for myself to relax and do nothing, usually on the weekends.  When I have time to read a book, watch a movie, see friends. That helps me reset. Then I can go into the next week or whatever is coming up next.”

Her journey hasn’t been without its challenges. “COVID was tough,” she says. “I couldn't practice my sport properly. I couldn't interact with my classmates. It felt very isolating, especially at home.”

While many Canadians were in lockdown, athletes in other countries had different COVID protocols. Kafadar was excited to return to competition after time away but found she was no longer performing at the same level as people she’d previously competed against.

“I felt like such a failure,” she says. “I was still training but 2022 was when I finally started seeing the results.”

Last November Kafadar won the Canadian Olympic qualifying event. Next week she’s aiming for a top two finish to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics, and she’s looking forward to testing out new techniques she has been practicing.

To other students she says “make sure to try to schedule your time, not just for classes, but also to have time for yourself to do things you want to do. Be willing to explore new things, especially as like a first year and get involved with clubs or your student society.”

“Don't take things for granted. Just push yourself so you can achieve what you need to do. Eventually you're going to reap the rewards rather than someone else.”

Update, April 9, 2024: After a strong showing at the Pan-American Qualifier, Kafadar has qualified for the Paris 2024 Olympics.