BUSHWICK — Karate changed Jaida Rosario's life.
The 14-year-old is the top female karate athlete in her 14-15 age group and is on her way to the Pan America and World championships this year, an honor reserved for only the number one players in the country.
But just four years ago, Jaida was a chubby 10-year-old who was close to 200 pounds.
Her father initially forced her into classes for health purposes, a new activity that was a scary proposition for the shy Bushwick girl.
Still, after years of training and a gradual love for the physical outlet that karate provided, Jaida shed some pounds — and started winning tournaments all across the country.
"I actually made friends and lost weight," Jaida said. "I was feeling bad. ...I like [karate], it's aggressive. When you see other people fight, there's excitement. It's interesting to learn."
The year that Jaida started karate was tough, her father, Juan Rosario, said.
Her six-month-old brother died unexpectedly. She was struggling at school. She was afraid to speak up in class and her weight was an issue, he said.
Rosario, who works as a super in several Bushwick buildings, said a friend recommended that he put his daughter in karate to help. It was the best decision Rosario ever made, he said.
Within a year, Jaida started shedding weight, gaining confidence and passing her classes.
Now, she happily trains two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening for the international competition.
"It changed her whole life," Rosario said. "It’s not easy to fund this sport. But I woudn’t change nothing."
Beyond training at the studio, Jaida has to show commitment to the sport in other parts of her life, too.
While most teenagers can chow down junk food, Jaida must keep her weight under 54 kilos, or just under 120 pounds, to qualify for her weight class in the competition.
She's on a strict diet of vegetables, chicken and lots of water.
But Jaida understands that's what it takes to compete at the elite level, said her coach, Luis Ruiz, director at Goshin-Ryu, at 35 Locust St. She's competitive, aggressive, listens to instructions and rarely complains, he said.
It's "huge" that Jaida's making it to the international level her first year of trying, he said.
"I know for a fact that a lot of elite athletes try for seven or eight years and never make the [national] team until they are 20, 25," Ruiz said. "To make it at this age, it's rough. She's very committed."
Her family is currently raising money to send her to Bolivia for the international juniors tournament, an event that the USA Karate team provides little financial support for.
Rosario has been fundraising on his own, including selling chocolates on the train in hopes of getting her to the tournament.
He has two other kids in the program at Goshin-Ryu, which costs $210 a month as a package deal. Tournaments cost money, too, and traveling to them also comes at a cost, he said.
But after karate helped so much, he wouldn't stop his family from doing it for the world, he said.
"It turned everything upside down," Rosario said. "It changed my whole family. I wouldn't change it."
As for Jaida, she wants to get to that competition. Months of training will lead to fights that last only two minutes, but it will be worth it for her goal, she said: "To get first."