Dana Touran was encouraged by her parents and school to practice Taekwondo at a young age. She participated in her first international competition, the 2007 Asian Taekwondo Championship, when she was only fourteen. She was the only Arab competitor to have received the gold medal and the most valuable player award. She continued competing at a national and international level, winning several medals, including a silver medal at the 2009 Junior World Taekwondo Championship, a silver medal at the Youth Olympic Games World Qualifications in 2010, a silver medal at the Asian Games in 2010, and a silver medal at the Youth Olympics in Singapore in 2010 when she was only 17, becoming the first Jordanian and only female to receive an Olympic Medal at the Youth Olympic Games. This led to her holding a national record that has yet to be broken.
In 2011, Dana qualified for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, something she had been dreaming about for years. She wanted to be the first Jordanian to win a medal at the Summer Olympics. However, she suffered a devastating injury that tore her ACL two days before the Olympics were set to begin and had to return to Jordan. At the time, her late father offered her some advice, “if you want to continue playing in the future and to perform like a champion does the operation and the future is yours for more competitions, I believe in you and I will be by your side; however, if you think this is going to be your last competition, risk it, and compete but you will be an easy bridge for other players.” Dana chose to undergo surgery on the day of the opening ceremony.
One year later, post-recovery, Dana went on to win the silver medal at the 2013 Senior World Championship in Mexico, which was the first Taekwondo world silver medal Jordan had ever received at the senior level for men and women. She then proceeded to win a bronze medal at the 2014 Asia Championship, and fifth place at her final competition, the 2015 World Championships in Russia. For Dana, competing was something that she considered very noble; she always strived to raise the Jordanian flag high and make her family and country proud.
At the time, society was not very supportive of young athletes, particularly young female athletes in martial arts as it was not very common for women to practice martial arts in any capacity. The stereotypical belief was that women should focus more on their education and on raising a family. However, Dana says, “at the end of the day, whether the winner is a man or a woman, the Jordanian flag is the one held high, so it does not matter, does it? Some titles were exclusively secured by women. This should be enough incentive to treat athletes equally.” Luckily, Taekwondo as a whole is very inclusive support, and Dana had a very supportive network around her that helped keep her motivated and focused.
She also had to deal with a lack of available sponsorship opportunities and funding and had to secure funding out of her pocket to receive strength and conditioning training from professional trainers. However, Jordan’s international success at Taekwondo has led to it being one of the most popular sports in the country. Thankfully, the situation has gotten much better for the new generation of athletes.
Eventually, a combination of a hamstring minor injury, university stress, and burnout forced Dana to make an important decision: did she want to compete at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro? She felt like something was off and that the pressure was too high, which led to her deciding to take a step back from Taekwondo for the first time since she began in 2002. “I felt as though I had done a lot for the sport and wanted to take some time to focus on myself and my personal development.” She chose to focus on and complete her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Jordan in 2016.
She ended up spending two years working in the banking sector. She thinks that, while she gained important skills from her time there, she always had more of a drive and passion for sports and continued to train on her own in her free time. However, she no longer dreamt of securing medals as she no longer felt like it was a major achievement for her. Instead, she wanted to use the experience she had gained to make more of an impact and contribute positively to the sport, from a managerial position. She ended up applying to a master’s program in sports management at Seoul National University in South Korea and received a scholarship to attend.
She recalls her time at university very fondly as she found her true passion in the field of sports management. Only a few months into the program, she was assigned as a member of the Development Committee for the World Taekwondo Organization, a huge step for a Master`s student. She was always very driven to start initiatives, launch projects, and apply what she learned in her classes as she is a firm believer in sports being an important tool for development. Upon the Seoul National University instructional graduation in 2020, five out of a total of 20 students had the chance to be interns at five international sports organizations for a period of six months, before the official graduation in August 2021; Dana was one of them.
The World Taekwondo Organization asked her to join them as an intern where she worked on two projects: the first about gender equity and women’s leadership and the other about refugees. She is now part of the Taekwondo for All committee, which aims to empower women and refugees among other groups. She often finds herself being the youngest in any room and tries to use her age as a way to build a bridge between young athletes and the older management team.
Dana believes that governments and companies should take into consideration that mothers have responsibilities in their households and should be allowed some flexibility at work such that they can have a good work-life balance. She further advises companies to hire more women leaders because they are qualified and not just to fill out a quote, “women are very capable, we are not there to just be a number.”
She is also a firm believer that parents should not stand in the way of their daughters’ growth and development and should encourage them to pursue their interests. She further extends this thinking to men, particularly husbands, “at the end of the day marriage is a partnership. It is not a hierarchy.”
As for the media, Dana says it tends to give far more importance to male-led sports, which, in turn, drives up revenue for male athletes and widens the pay gap between male and female athletes, “the media needs to focus on female sports teams as well. Female athletes are just as important as male athletes and the media plays a very large role in spotlighting them.”
These days, Dana believes that “medals are not everything. It is much more important to have athletes who can be good leaders and good people when they grow up.” Dana encourages young women and girls to remain confident in their capabilities and not to listen to any environment that may try to tear them down, and to not strive to fill out an assigned gender role, but to instead work to improve themselves, their skills, and their education and not to doubt the importance of whatever they choose to do. “Women need to know their worth; if they feel like they deserve more, they should ask for more, because no one else will.”
This story was written by Ghada El Kawas