A Taekwondo bronze medalist from Miami is hoping for gold at this year’s games in Rio.
Paige McPherson will disarm you with her smile, and then dismantle you with her speed.
“I always use my front leg to smack ‘em in the face!” she said with a big grin on her face. It’s why the Miami resident who won bronze in Taekwondo at the 2012 games in London is an Olympic juxtaposition.
But don’t let the 26-year-old’s friendly disposition or smaller frame fool you, McPherson is a menace on the mat.
“Nobody wants to see her on their side of the draw,” said McPherson’s coach and former Olympic martial artist Juan Moreno. “She’s that kind of curveball to the sport.”
McPherson is undersized for her weight class, so she’ll fight against women who are much taller and heavier. But she makes up for it by staying true to her nickname: “Mc-Fierce.”
“In a combative sport it takes a little bit of an edgy type person, a little bit of a rough person,” Moreno said. “But Paige has been able to balance the two things, of being a good quality person and a tenacious athlete.”
Winning bronze in her first Olympics was an incredible achievement, but now that McPherson has qualified for Rio, she has some unfinished business.
“I definitely have the confidence that will push through this time to gold,” she said.
McPherson’s unlikely Olympic journey started in South Dakota, where she was one of five adopted children. It was a United Nations of a family, with brothers and sisters who are Korean, St. Lucian, Native American, and Paige, who is half Filipino and half African-American.
“Me and my sister were actually the only two African Americans there, in the whole area,” McPherson says. “We definitely had our looks, but we had such a loving family, we didn’t understand or notice it.”
McPherson left South Dakota as a teenager after getting recruited to Miami for training by Moreno.
“It was known to go to Miami. It wasn’t just me, there were other people from around the country that moved here too,” she said.
McPherson said Moreno is a father-figure, and reminds her of her adoptive parents, always believing in her and pushing her too.
She’s also a big deal in South Dakota. She’s the only South Dakotan woman ever to win a summer Olympic medal. They even threw her a parade after the 2012 games.
McPherson says she owes it all to a small town family, with big hearts.
“The way they’ve brought me up, the way they’ve helped me financially, purse my dreams, if it wasn’t for my parents I would never have my Olympic birth, let alone my second Olympic birth, so I have to give it up to them,” she said.
McPherson has never connected with her birth parents, but she did recently find her biological brother on Facebook, and the two met in person for the very first time.
Published at 5:17 PM EDT on May 27, 2016
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