SAN ANTONIO — Elva Pai Adams has the watchful gaze of a Taekwondo master with the focus and determination of an Olympian.
Now she's brought her life-long martial arts passion to students at the World Taekwondo Center in San Antonio.
"I am able to pass on my knowledge," said Adams, who started the school in 2017. "There's more than just teaching them how to kick and punch. The art that we actually studied through Taekwondo, it all transferred to my adult life."
Adams' 40-year relationship with Taekwondo started as a teenager in Taiwan. It quickly transformed into much more.
"Beginning it was all self-defense," Adams said. "When I was a yellow belt and went to nationals, I actually won a medal. I felt that rush and was like, 'you know what, this is fun'.”
Four years later, she was in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. It was the first Olympics in which Taekwondo was included as a demonstration sport.
"I was the very first day. I didn’t go to opening ceremonies. I just went directly to the competition," Adams said.
She won a bronze medal while competing for Chinese Taipei. She moved to America in 1990 for college, but still competed internationally. She'd eventually take a break to pursue a business career and start a family.
“Everything I do is with the mindset that you want to do better," Adams said.
Her love of Taekwondo didn't keep her away from the sport for long.
"I didn't really feel like I wanted to compete," Adams said. "So I decided that referee is the route."
It was a decision that started her on the path back to the Olympics. Adams was selected to officiate the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
That was another history-making moment — Adams was the first woman from the United States to officiate an Olympic Taekwondo event.
"We have different pressure, because when you're center, you want to make sure you don't make the wrong call," Adams said.
She founded the World Taekwondo Center a few months after returning from Rio.
"It's kind of like a miniature family," said Camila Angel, a World Taekwondo Center student. "It’s like we’re all here together competing. We're always here for each other."
And at the head of that family is Adams.
"She's kind of like my Taekwondo mom," said World Taekwondo Center instructor Lauren Lee, who's worked with Adams since the school's inception. "I couldn't be more grateful for the relationship and the mentorship that she's given me. The dedication is so intense and immense. She doesn't just teach taekwondo, she doesn't just referee, she doesn't just compete."
She actually lives it — a commitment to Taekwondo that Adams hopes will rub off on her students.
"Hopefully I can cultivate the next generation of top athletes," Adams said. "Maybe we can have an Olympian from our school.”