The McPherson family has been immersed in the world of taekwondo from early on, starting lessons for the oldest of their five adopted children, Evan, as a way of connecting him with his Korean heritage. Younger sister Paige, who is part Filipino and part African-American, wanted to emulate him as most siblings do and soon started lessons herself. A few years later, younger sister Hannah started the sport as well.
This summer, the family is watching taekwondo from the stands in London as Paige is part of her first Olympic taekwondo team representing the United States. As one of only four from the sport to represent the U.S., McPherson knows the honor of being part of Team USA and the platform she has to share her faith.
“They only choose two men and two women, and they take eight weight brackets and combine them into four,” explains the 21-year-old McPherson. “The whole selection process started in 2010, so it’s been almost two years since we really started competing to find out who would go. It’s a long process but definitely worth it.”
In the final analysis, it was McPherson – nicknamed “McFierce” by friends – who made the cut, along with three-time Olympic medalist Steven Lopez, his sister Diana (2008 bronze medalist) and fellow first-timer Terrence Jennings.
“God gave me the talent so I could see how I could increase it for Him.”
The only thing McPherson has been more immersed in than taekwondo is faith. Adopted at four days old by a Christian family, she considers herself blessed to have been able to attend church weekly with her parents while growing up. At age 16, she chose to give her life to God at a Christian Bible camp, beginning her own personal relationship with Jesus.
This gave McPherson a new perspective on the sport she enjoyed much more than just at a hobby level.
“I knew it was a God-given talent, and I have always wanted to glorify Him in any way I can through my sport since I was so good at it,” she says. “I wanted to believe that God gave me the talent so I could see how I could increase it for Him.”
She did just that. Raised in South Dakota, Paige eventually progressed past lessons and into sparring rounds through a club team. She competed in state tournaments and advanced to nationals, medaling one year. That propelled her into further training, with her parents and coaches recognizing her ability to go further in the sport. She eventually made the U.S. junior team, then the senior team and finally the national team.
With Olympic dreams forming, McPherson made a difficult decision
As a home-schooled student, McPherson would often watch the Olympic Games during afternoon school breaks with her entire family of sports enthusiasts. In 2008, she recalls watching swimmer Michael Phelps pick up a record eight medals and pictured herself in that Olympic environment.
“I wanted to be one of those athletes and have those moments,” she recalls. “Seeing the U.S. team members win an event and have those special podium moments, I really wanted that too. I think it would be one of the best feelings you can have.”
With Olympic dreams forming, McPherson made a difficult decision to move to Florida at the invitation of Juan Moreno, an Olympic silver medalist and former U.S. coach, to train after her win at the Pan Am Championships. She was just 18, but knew if London 2012 was in her future, this was the best opportunity to get there. Moreno shares her spirituality and has kept her focused, along with her parents. She credits daily Bible readings and prayer with keeping her grounded in her faith.
Along with her intense training schedule – which includes endurance and strength training each weekday along with sparring practices each evening – McPherson has been attending Miami Dade Community College and hopes to transfer to a university after the London Games. She took the spring term off to focus full-time on training for the Olympic Trials.
“When I finally started believing fully, I started doing better at my tournaments.”
McPherson says her faith goes hand in hand with her sport in giving her greater perspective and peace despite the outcome of her matches.
“When I finally started believing fully is when I started doing better at my tournaments. I would take my problems to God and know He was in control. If I didn’t win, I knew it was His will, and I had that inner peace in me during the tournaments,” she says, noting that it also shaped her humility. “Whenever I tried to be overconfident, I didn’t win. But I know the other person is just as human as I am and I don’t believe I’m better than another person. If God wants me to win again, I will.”
She takes that same attitude with her to London, hoping only to glorify the Lord in her competition, whatever the outcome.
“I have trust in the Lord that whatever happens, happens. I know I did not get to where I am by myself. If I did, I don’t think I could have handled it on my own with the pressure and the scrutiny,” she says. “Being able to trust my Lord and have faith that whatever happens is His will, gives me the inner peace that makes me ready for anything. If He wants me to glorify Him with gold or with nothing, I pray I do that.”
By Teresa Young, AIA Communications
Photo by Meredith Miller/USA Taekwondo