Profile of triple Olympian in taekwondo Paige McPherson
One of the many fascinating stories of the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo takes place in a nondescript gym in West Kendall. It’s where Paige “McFierce” McPherson, a 30-year-old Afro-Filipino taekwondo competitor with a fascinating family background, trains six days a week for her third Olympics.
She won the bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics and is the first American woman to compete in three Olympics in taekwondo.
Her goal – to make three Olympics before the age of 30 – was postponed for a year when the Games were postponed due to COVID. McPherson was willing to wait as she is desperate to make up for it for the Rio Olympics, where she arrived as a medal hopeful and lost in her opener.
“It was absolutely devastating,” McPherson said Monday. “This event in Rio made me realize how much I needed to train, both physically and mentally, which propelled me to where I am today.
“I was numb for a very long time, I entered a period of depression. You are finally here, representing the United States team, and in smaller sports like ours, unlike swimming, gymnastics, track and field, the only way to be recognized is to get the medal. ‘or at least to participate in the final. Dedicating your life four years, finally getting that moment and losing your first fight, knowing that no one will see you on TV or know who you are, it’s really hard.
But McPherson learned from an early age to dust himself off and move on. His life journey has been anything but ordinary.
It all started in Abilene, Texas where she was born and at the age of four she was put up for adoption by her biological mother, Shonna Nichols, because her biological father was a drug addict and Nichols already had a son. 13 months old and could not support the two children. McPherson was adopted by Dave and Susan McPherson of Sturgis, South Dakota, who also adopted four other children: two white (Aaryn and Graham), one South Korean (Evan) and one from St. Lucia (Hannah). .
“You can imagine we all lived together in Sturgis, South Dakota, we were definitely different,” McPherson said with a smile. “My parents were very good at protecting us from everything. Our parents taught us to be confident in our uniqueness.
“There was definitely racism towards me and Hannah, being the only black people in this area, but I don’t think I got that right. I started doing taekwondo with Evan and Hannah, and I stuck with my friends who accepted me, regardless of what other people think. It helped me in my Olympic training because I learned to have thick skin.
She won a bronze medal at the Junior Olympics at 12 and a gold at the Pan American Championships at 16. She moved to Miami after high school in 2009 to train with three-time Olympian Juan Moreno at his gym, Peak Performance Taekwondo. . Moreno had seen McPherson compete, was impressed with her speed and power and recruited her.
“All the top athletes knew that if you want to be someone in our sport, you go to Miami and train with Juan Moreno,” she said.
Even though McPherson was 2,200 miles from Sturgis, she felt right at home in Miami.
“It was culture shock to be around a diverse culture, not just my family, so it was a breath of fresh air,” McPherson said. “I loved this place and I immediately integrated. “
Last weekend, after a sponsor photoshoot in San Francisco, she met her birth mother for the first time. McPherson knew from an early age that she had been adopted. Her adoptive parents gave her a baby book that included photos of her birth mother and her biological brother, Bryce. At 18, when it was legal for her to contact Nichols, she did.
They have spoken sporadically over the years but had never met until last weekend.
“I called my birth mom, who lives in Sacramento, and told her I was in San Francisco, and we all met in Union Square,” McPherson said. In addition to Bryce, she met half-siblings Denise and Blake.
“It was surreal meeting people who look like me, the four of us have a space between our front teeth,” said McPherson. “I know I’m Filipino and black, but being able to meet my mother, who is Asian, made me feel good about my identity. Growing up in South Dakota, I didn’t have the opportunity to experience my culture of being Filipino or even African American. To meet my mom, she talks and walks like a Filipina, and I was like, “Wow. “
Her adoptive parents supported her decision to meet her birth parents.
“They understand that every adoptee is going through a time when they need to understand each other,” McPherson said. “It was a piece of the puzzle that had to be found and put in place. I feel more understanding because of their meeting.
Nichols told Paige that she chose the McPhersons as her adoptive parents because in their letter they said they would do everything in their power to help her pursue her dreams.
“And here I am, I’m going to my third Olympics,” McPherson said. “I attribute this to my parents who were ready to welcome me and give me everything. I also have to thank my biological mother for choosing my parents because I wouldn’t have had this life if she hadn’t sacrificed herself and abandoned me for a better future.
She also thanks the American Olympic Committee for offering her financial support allowing her to train for an additional year during the pandemic.
Due to COVID protocols, Olympians cannot travel to Tokyo more than 10 days before the competition and must leave within 24 hours of their event. McPherson travels July 17.
“We don’t know if the opening ceremonies will take place, Japan as a whole as a country is kind of against the Olympics, but I’m ready,” she said. “If they need to put us in a bubble, put us in a bubble. I have been waiting for this moment for five years.