South Florida can boast having half of the Olympic Tae Kwon Do team.
Paige McPherson will join Terrence Jennings on the trip to the 2012 games in London with both training in the same Miami gym.
“Terrence and I are very close friends and close teammates. We fight like brother and sister a lot,” McPherson says.
McPherson was a surprise qualifier during the Olympic trials, beating the 2004 silver medalist that she grew up idolizing, Nia Abdallah. That maybe even more surprising considering McPherson roots.
“I grew up in Sturgis, South Dakota. Basically farmland. Small town. Everyone knows everyone. [Miami] was definitely a culture shock for me,” McPherson said.
What isn't shocking about living in Miami is its cultural melting pot - McPherson is used to that. She’s one of five adopted kids -- her parents, who are white, could not have kids of their own. Now she’s part of what she calls a "rainbow family."
“My brother is from Korea. My little sister is from St. Lucia. I’m Filipino and African-American, so we are all around the world,” McPherson says. “I’ve never lived with anyone that is the same like me, so it’s practically normal for me to be around people with different personalities.”
McPherson was recruited to Miami by two-time Olympic medalist, Juan Moreno. After three years of working under his tutelage, the 21-year-old has circled August 10 on her calendar. That’s her day to put her 14 years of training to the ultimate test.
“I always thought that 2012 was my year. So I know that on that day, this is my moment. This is the moment I’ve always wanted to happen,” McPherson said.
“I don’t feel intimidated. I maybe feel more of an advantage because I’m younger than some of the opponents. I could be maybe faster, a little more skilled, more flexible. You never know, because in this tournament, everyone is good.”
Be fooled by McPherson’s smile and soft-spoken nature at your own risk. Seeing her aggressiveness during competitions, her teammates have given her the nickname "McFierce."
“They’ve always said that I’m really nice and shy in person, but when I get in the ring, I turn into a different person, as in ‘fierce’ or mean, I guess. And I’m willing to hit people in the face,” McPherson says with a laugh.
Her rainbow family will trek to London to watch her be as fierce as she can. On August 10, McPherson will have to win four fights to win gold. Each fight is three rounds, each round is two minutes each.
But when the Olympics are over, McPherson has another quest – finding and meeting her biological family.
“Family is very important to me so even knowing the people who are my biological family would be an amazing experience,” she said.
“I have a biological older brother, so when I turned 18, my dad hired a detective and we found him. I’ve met and actually talked to him. And I have a half-brother and half-sister. And I even talked to my mom too but I never met them. After the Olympics I will meet them.”
“I know I’m very blessed. I was adopted and I love the family that I am with now, but I also want to meet my other family too and just say thank you to my mom for giving me a life that she could have probably never given me,” she said.