Women’s History Month: influential female athletes in South Dakota

Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 7:56 AM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - Each March, we as Americans celebrate Women’s History Month. Here in South Dakota, a number of influential and progressive women made a lasting mark on the state... paving the way for today’s women. Throughout the month, we’re honoring some of South Dakota’s most influential women from yesterday and today.

Born in White Owl in 1906, Mattie Goff Newcombe was a rodeo pioneer and one of the first inductees into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.

At just 3 years old, Newcombe rode her first horse, launching her into a world of bronc and trick riding. And at 20 years old, she performed her trick-riding routine before President Calvin Coolidge at the 1927 Black Hills Roundup in Belle Fourche.

Mattie Goff Newcombe
Mattie Goff Newcombe(South Dakota State Archives)

Having once held the title of World’s Champion Lady Trick Rider, Newcombe was a trailblazer for female athletes, followed by decades of women making a mark on the field, court, or world stage.

“A fantastic time at that Olympics [London] I was able to achieve the bronze medal,” said Paige McPherson. “Again, a girl coming from Sturgis, South Dakota, you know never really had learned to really dream big per se. I’ve always felt like a small fish in the pond and here I was making a name for myself, and most importantly, for my country, my team, and my city, so that was an amazing experience.”

McPherson is a three-time Olympian - having competed in London, Rio, and Tokyo in Taekwondo. She is only the third person to compete in 3 world games for her sport and the first female.

“It is a male-dominated sport, hands down,” continued McPherson. “And so being a woman, especially trying to succeed as a woman in my sport, there’s a lot of challenges specifically geared towards women, as in the sense that all of the attention is mostly towards the men - their opportunities, as far as financial and social. But my sport has truly evolved to where it’s actually more female-dominant which is awesome to see kind of now. Female athletes are celebrated and it’s solely because of the prior veterans just grinding it out and being confident in what they do.”

Although the culture of Taekwondo is changing, McPherson said she was one of just a few women helping pave the way during her career. Something she was able to do because of her upbringing.

“One of the things I’m really grateful for is my family came from a small town and the small town kind of mentality is to work hard at everything you do,” wrapped up McPherson. “Really cherish the opportunities that you’re given and kind of make the most of what you are able to get.”

That’s McPherson’s advice to the next generation of female athletes - keep working and love what you do.

McPherson has retired from competing but continues to be part of the team, now as a “behind-the-scenes player”, working with athletes as a physical therapist.