Other Free Encyclopedias » Brief Biographies » Biographies: Grace Napolitano: 1936—: Politician to Richard (Wayne) Peck (1934-) Biography - Career » Derek Parra: 1970—: Athlete Biography - Raced For Food, Trained On World's Fastest Ice, Landmark Win—both National And Personal

Derek Parra: 1970—: Athlete - Raced For Food

skating inline olympic told

Parra grew up in San Bernardino's West Side neighborhood. His mother had departed when he was a toddler, and Parra's father worked as a prison guard to support him and his brother. As a kid, Parra and his older brother, Gilbert, loved to skate at the Stardust Roller Rink. Having no money for snacks, they began racing as a way to win food tickets from others. "We used to race for hot dogs and Cokes," Gilbert Parra told St. Petersburg Times columnist John Romano. Parra began competing in races using the new inline skates, though his father disapproved; he sometimes refused to drive him to meets, but changed his mind when others began telling him that they had seen his son on television.

As a teen, Parra met a Florida roller-skating coach named Virgil Dooley at a U.S. Olympic Committee training camp. Parra told Dooley that he would like to train with him after he finished high school. He then graduated early and bought a ticket to Tampa, and phoned the coach. "He said, 'Could I stay with you for a couple of days until I find a place to live?,'" Dooley told Romano in the St. Petersburg Times. "I said, 'Yeah, I guess that'll be all right.' He lived with us for seven years." While Parra trained with Dooley, he held various jobs to pay his expenses. At times he was so poor that he sometimes took food destined for the dumpster at the fast-food restaurant where he worked.

That single-mindedness helped make Parra a champion. He dominated inline skating for nearly a decade, winning 18 titles and setting world records for speed. He was also earning about $50,000 annually. At the 1995 Pan American Games, he was the most decorated athlete. He was keenly disappointed when inline skating was not chosen as a new Olympic sport for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. Around this time, another inline skating champion, K.C. Boutiette, urged Parra to try ice skates. By switching to speed-skating, Parra might have a shot at the Olympics.

At a Glance . . .

Born March 15, 1970, in California; son of Gilbert Parra; married; wife's name, Tiffany; children: Mia Elizabeth.

Career: Became inline skating competitor; won several world titles; switched to speedskating on ice, 1996.

Awards: Winter Olympic Games, Gold medal, men's 1,500-speedskating race, 2002.

Addresses: Home—Orlando, FL. Office—c/o U.S. Speedskating, P.O. Box 450639, Westlake, OH 44145.

Parra had worn ice skates only once before in life. He tried it, and decided to stick with it, despite some initial difficulties. "It was very frustrating coming to the ice and being a nobody, especially after being the best in the world," he told Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service reporter Kamon Simpson. "I knew I could do it, but the results weren't coming as fast as I wanted them." By 1998 and the Nagano Winter Games, Parra had made the U.S. men's team, but did not get a chance to compete because a higher-ranking skater showed up. He considered quitting, but his wife, Tiffany, urged him not to give up yet.


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