By Mike Cugno

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – At just 17 years old, Plantation native Aliyah Shipman is going to the Olympics through hard work and dedication with taekwondo gold on her mind. Something she didn’t imagine when she first stepped on to the mat.

“I really like winning. So that is like my favorite part,” Shipman says.

Shipman has certainly done enough winning in her career.

“I started off at like an easy level. Just as a little kid I wanted to do a sport. I was chubby, so my mom put me into taekwondo.”

That chubby kid is now the lone athlete representing Haiti in Tokyo in 2021. She’s been in the sport for just 8 years and already lost count of her wins.

“So many fights. Like we don’t even keep track of our records. I could tell you like I’ve won the US Open, Canada Open, I got bronze at the Turkish Open. Like I have a lot of competitions.”

Aliyah trains at a strip mall in Sunrise, twice a day, every day with her coach Muhammad Ali Melgagh.

“He mentioned that she had a lot of Olympic potential. You know you listen to it and you take it into consideration but coach put the work in. Coach Muhammad put the work in and it came to fruition,” said her dad, Gary.

While she was taking on Olympic dreams, this teenager also had other goals on her mind. She’s already a junior at the University of Miami where she has her sights set on med school. A drive her coach says can’t be taught.

“We have the good chemistry, me and her. Like I’ll be so serious with her. Like Aliyah, we have to train 7 days a week. She won’t tell me,’oh coach, that’s too much. I cant.’ She doesn’t have that,” said Ali Melgagh.

Many may look at Aliyah and think she’s just a normal 17-year old. But the three guys who train with her know just how powerful she can be. They’ve been on the receiving end of far too many kicks.

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“A lot of people don’t know that Aliyah is a terminator. Hard-kicking. She’s very strong God bless.”

“Oh, yeah.. yeah not good. She kicked me in the chin because we were doing some training and she kicked me in the chin and I had to sit down. I was embarrassed,” said her dad.

“I take kicks on the daily. Me and coach Muhammad are her training partners
most of the time and she’s a really hard hitter,” said a sparring partner.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the youngest athletes going to Tokyo gets an extra year of training and more time dreaming about that first match.

“I’m really excited for that. I know it’s going to be such a great opportunity,” said the teen.

“It’s like a dream, almost. Like how much hard work she put in and it just turned out amazing.”

“She has the heart and the dedication to see herself through it. Win or lose we love her.”