Olympics: Taekwondo athlete determined, trusting God

RIO DE JANEIRO (BP) -- At a lot of her taekwondo competitions, Paige McPherson gathers with some fellow competitors and close friends from around the world to pray together.

U.S. Olympian Paige McPherson is competing for her second medal in taekwondo in Rio this year after winning bronze in 2012.
Photo by Meredith Miller
"I'm praying in English, my friend's praying in French, the other person's in Spanish," she told Baptist Press. "It's very encouraging, and I'm just truly grateful to God for bringing these people into my life."

McPherson is aiming for her second medal in taekwondo in Rio this year after winning bronze in 2012. Over the past four years, she's traveled a lot more and competed in a lot more tournaments than she ever has. That can be difficult, because it takes McPherson away from her church in Miami. That's why she's grateful for the friends she has made who share her faith.

McPherson credits her family with giving her a solid Christian foundation. Dubbed the "rainbow family," her parents adopted five children from around the world. McPherson is half Filipino and half African American. She has a brother from Korea, a sister from St. Lucia and two other siblings who are part Native American.

That diversity, she said, is a beautiful picture of the Gospel and how the church consists of those Christ has adopted from all over the world.

While the traveling creates certain challenges in her life, McPherson also said it helps her grow in her faith.

"I think it actually makes me want to pray to God more, needing Him more," she said. "He wants you to make sure you pray to Him, talk to Him throughout all your troubles or good and bad situations and just having Him being included into your journey."

With some Olympic success to her credit, McPherson said she sometimes has to wrestle with giving up control of her life to someone else. She wears the reference Proverbs 3:5-6 on her belt when she competes: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about him in all your ways, and he will guide you on the right paths."

It's a reminder to McPherson of how the Lord controls her steps.

"I'm an athlete. We're taught to be a little bit more self-absorbed," McPherson said. "We want to be more in control of ourselves, and the more control we have, the better the outcome. I understand how a lot of athletes become very confident and cocky, and it's all about them because we're taught to be like that."

But McPherson says it's just the opposite for a Christian.

"Although we might give it our all, it might not be the best," she said. "That's when we know at our weakest point, that's when we look to God. That's when we ask for His strength, and anything is possible through Him."

She hopes the "anything" includes a gold medal in Rio.

"I truly believe that with God behind all my efforts, I can win this. I know I can," McPherson said. "I have the God-given talent, the determination. But the biggest factor is that I can trust in God, and I want to do what I can to give glory to Him."

And if she doesn't win?

"I know that it wasn't meant to be, and I just have to trust in what He has planned for me," she said. "I'm truly just excited. I want this very, very badly, and I'm ready to do whatever it takes to put me in a position to win it."

Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.
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