Olympic high jumper Inika McPherson honored at Port Arthur MLK brunch
PORT ARTHUR -- As soon as Inika McPherson walked into the Robert A. “Bob” Bowers Civic Center, she was stopped by a young fan asking for a picture and an autograph.
“Of course I will,” the Port Arthur native said with a smile.
All eyes were on the Olympic high jumper as she found her seat at Monday’s 31st Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Brunch and Celebration in Port Arthur, her recognizable tattoos and “USA” T-shirt giving away her identity.
“It happens pretty much everywhere, someone will be like, ‘I saw you on TV’,” said McPherson, who finished 10th in the high jump at the Summer Olympics in Rio. “But what’s great about coming to Port Arthur is that you have the same people that supported me when I was younger that are still here supporting me today.”
On Monday, McPherson’s hometown honored her with a video tribute, honorary plaque and a standing ovation that left her emotional in her seat.
“It’s incredible,” McPherson said. “My mom tells me about this event every year, and to be honored here is the most incredible thing.”
In a short speech, McPherson thanked the community for its continued support. She sat back down next to her mother.
“It’s a blessing to have her be here with me today,” Symanthia McPherson said.
“She’s living a dream that I knew as a mother she would never give up on. I knew she would reach her goals. It wasn’t if, it was when.”
McPherson, 30, has been busy since her first visit back home after the Olympics.
In late August and into September, McPherson competed overseas in the Diamond League, a series of international track events that sent her to Brussels, Zurich and Paris, where she finished fifth after a jump of 1.93m - a career best.
Next, McPherson celebrated her birthday - Sept. 29 - at the White House, meeting with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, along with the entire U.S. Olympic delegation.
It was an experience she called “incredible.”
“Just being able to talk to him for a split second was really cool.” said McPherson, who was able to tour the facility and its residential area.
“I told (the president) that he was an inspiration to me. He said we were the ones who were his inspiration. Michelle was so dope, too. She was like, ‘Eat your fruits and vegetables’ and ‘eat right.’ She’s great.”
In November, McPherson moved from her longtime home in Houston to Phoenix, a “beautiful” place that she said is “perfect for year-long training.”
With 40 months to prepare for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, McPherson has gone back to the basics, adjusting her running steps to get more height on her jumps.
It’s a work in progress.
Last Friday, McPherson used the Leonard Hilton Memorial Invitational in Houston to test her adjustments.
She missed on all three attempts.
“My coach has been trying to add two steps - from eight to ten - to see if we can get more momentum coming off the back with some added speed,” McPherson said.
“But it’s something I’m debating whether or not I want to do. I like how it was. Don’t mess with what works, especially this late in the game.”
McPherson’s first major test will be this August during the 2017 World Outdoor Track & Field Championships in London.
It will be the fifth time she has competed in the event. Her top finish is 11th place.
“I have to focus on the short term right now and that’s the Worlds,” she said.
“But the long term is to be back at the Olympics.”