Please tell us a little bit about yourself.


My name is Ayoka Desantos-Gutierrez. I am 17 years old and I love basketball, karate, and art. I am entering grade 12 at Rosedale Heights School of the Arts in the fall and hope to go to university the following year. I started karate when I was 3 years old, mostly because my mom owns and runs several Martial Art schools in Toronto. I was so shy I cried in my first class, so my mom let me wait a couple of years and I retried again when I turned 5. I worked hard to overcome my shyness and at 7 I entered my first international tournament in Washington D.C as a brown belt. I was terrified but was still able to place in the top 8 of my division.


My next goal was to become a Black Belt. The process of earning my first degree Black Belt required a great amount of perseverance, hard work, and spirit, all attributes that have greatly contributed to the successes in other areas of my life. My Black Belt test took place over “Power Weekend” involving 72 hours of testing, hundreds of sit-ups and push-ups, forms, sparring and self-defense. By the end of the weekend, I was exhausted but felt very proud of my accomplishment. Two years later I did it again and received my second degree Black Belt.


Martial Arts is not just about kicking and punching. In fact, many times it has nothing to do with that. It has pushed me to so many levels in setting goals, competing, and understanding who I am. I have developed skills in teaching and have begun to mentor other girls to look at how their experience in sports can empower them in their lives.


At 13, after I received my second degree Black Belt, I was introduced to basketball. I joined LFB’s house league just for fun, and it was just that. I was thrilled to win the spirit award in my first session! I loved it and I never looked back. After a year of hard work and practice and learning a brand new game, I made LFB’s competitive rep team. I have been playing with this team ever since. In the summers, I play with Big Country Basketball in Waterloo. I have had many opportunities through basketball, competing, travelling to many tournaments across Canada and the United States but most importantly making lifelong connections and friends.


Being a dual athlete is super exciting but can have its challenging and conflicting moments. I’m working very hard to improve my game in basketball which takes tremendous discipline and many hours of practice leaving very little time for my Martial Arts. Even though I have less practice time in karate, I was able to participate in the Ontario Winter games this year and received gold and silver medals in competition forms.


Sports has given me so much to be thankful for. An important aspect of my involvement in sports includes opportunities to give back to the world. For several years, I have participated in the DeSantos Foundation Walk. This involves walking to Niagara Falls (135 KM) over 4 days. It is super fun, meditative and challenging. I believe in participating in the Niagara walk to raise funds for children who have less than I. It supports many programs in Canada, Guyana and the Philippines.


What inspired you to participate in sport?


I was kind of born for it. As a small child I was very physically active. I think I’ve played every sport from downhill skiing, to soccer and even dance.


My mom is a 7th degree Black Belt and operates several schools in Toronto. She is a very accomplished high-level international athlete. My other mom was a tennis player when she was young. You could say it’s a bit in my DNA.


What qualities of a leader do you appreciate most? Why?

To me a good leader is someone who inspires, not tells me to be great. As I grow as a leader myself, I am learning every day that people need support, motivation and challenges to achieve their goals. A technique that has been effective in my teaching is praise, correct, praise (PCP).


What advice do you have for parents, coaches or sport administrators to encourage or improve sport for females?

Don’t forget to praise athletes’ efforts and successes. Young girls have few messages and role models to look up to in the world of sports. Often, they are encouraged to sit by the sidelines and not participate. Every little advancements or successes are reasons to acknowledge and celebrate.  Building self-esteem is critical to the continuation of girls in any sport.


What do you say to yourself to motivate yourself?


“I am’s” – A technique that I have used, especially during these COVID times is daily affirmations I call my “I am” statements.  Each morning I write 3 works in my journal that I use to shape the day I want to have.


I am confident


I am fierce


I am joyful


I carry these works close to me as I train, study and navigate challenging relationships in my life.


What is a quote that motivates you?


“Believe it is my time to accomplish the impossible.”