FORT MYERS, Fla. — A Fort Myers athlete will be one of only 10 female coaches at this year's World Taekwondo Championships.
Nikki Oliver and her husband, Toby, own World Championship Taekwondo in Fort Myers. Her passion started at just 3 years old, but the way it started is a little unusual.
"My mom put me in dance and I kicked the dance teacher and he immediately put me in taekwondo," Oliver laughed. "I immediately fell in love with taekwondo the moment I stepped on the mats."
And those mats tell a story over the past 27 years. As an athlete, Oliver has gone on to the World Taekwondo Championships and nearly qualified for the Olympics twice.
"It was such a cool experience to be able to get that close, because I feel like it really fueled me into transitioning from an athlete to a coaching mentality," Oliver said.
In 2015, she retired and moved on to coaching; a chapter in her life that's still ongoing. In January, a call led Oliver to an opportunity not given to many.
"I got named to the U.S. National Cadet staff to U.S. Team Taekwondo," she said.
The 30-year-old will be one of four coaches on Team U.S.A., coaching five athletes from ages 12 to 14 in Bosnia this month. After the cadet class, the next one could potentially qualify for the Olympics.
"It really is a lifetime worth of work," she said.
She was chosen based on years of experience and coaching athletes who consistently do well in competitions.
The bigger feat is being one of only 10 female coaches at the championships.
"The coaching pool in the United States, especially for female coaches, is starting to grow rapidly," Oliver said. "As it continues, it’ll be something less to talk about, because it will be normalized locally soon."
It's a growth led by women like Oliver, a coach making her name more well-known in the sport.
"I like to think that the ceiling is starting to get broken by not just myself, but many, many very qualified coaches that are female," she explained.
Each coach has a different goal and a different story to how they got to this point in their careers. For Oliver, it doesn't end in Bosnia.
"The end goal will always be the Olympic Games," she said.
As she continues to push forward to reach that goal, Oliver is looking ahead to the challenge in front of her.
"We’re going to represent the United States and we’re going to do our best," she said.
At the same time, she's also paving the way for others closest to her.
"Big shout-out to my step daughters," she said. "They’re my whole world and they’re the reason that I do as much as I do because I want them to know there is no glass ceiling for them."
It's a glass ceiling being broken not only for her step-daughters, but all the other young girls out there.
"Don’t think your dream is too big," Oliver said. "Don’t think that it might not happen just because you’re a girl, because that shouldn’t even be a factor at this point."
Oliver will head to Bosnia Thursday and the competition starts on August 28.