Derek Parra speaks at The Colby School
His Olympic gold medal was thick and heavy, about the size of a gilded Mrs. Field’s cookie on a lanyard. Colby School students passed Derek Para’s gold and silver medals to each other as Parra spoke of his Olympic experiences, living a drug-free life and the need to believe in one’s self.
Parra spoke to fifth-eighth grade students at The Colby School on Monday, Oct. 23, to kick off "Red Ribbon Week,"
an annual National drug prevention week. His speech was held in conjunction with the National Olympic Education Program, which promotes Olympic ideals and values, according to the U.S. Olympic Committee.
"The proudest moment of my life was standing on the podium with our National Anthem playing, knowing I had won it drug free," he said. "To be a true winner is not about taking drugs, it is not about taking steroids that will change your body for the rest of your life." Parra said that when athletes find out that someone is using steroids, they shun that person."
Parra attributed the tremendous pressure to win to those who have used steroids. He said that especially with athletes from strict, regimented countries, a medal can make or break the athlete’s life. Such athletes were asked in a survey if they would take steroids on the guarantee it would win them a gold medal. Their overwhelming response was yes. They were then asked if they would take steroids for a guaranteed gold medal if they knew the steroids would kill them six months later. Again the overwhelming response was yes.
Parra said his family had little money as he was growing up in Southern California. He found he liked roller skating, and he eventually saved up his lunch money to buy a pair of skates. He was as fast as the wind and started racing. He turned to in-line skating in 1996, and then switched to ice skates for the speed skating event in the 1998 Olympics. He was told one day before his race that he wouldn’t be able to race because of a clerical error. But he made up for the disappointment in 2002, winning a gold medal in the 1500 meter long track race. Did he feel the pain of going all out?
"Oh yeah!" he said. "Your legs are on fire. Your legs build up lactic acid and you get weak and wobbly. On the last lap I kept telling myself, stay on your feet." He not only stayed on his feet, but won the Olympic gold medal.
Parra, at 5’4", said the skaters with long legs and huge thigh muscles carry a long stride, but not a lot of spring. His advantage, he said, was in being able to stay low in a crouch for long periods of time and spring to a full extension then coil for the next spring.
After Parra finished talking with students, Colby School Fifth-grade student Parker Scott said of Parra’s medals, "they’re heavy but they’re cool." But, Scott said he has no plans to become a speed skater. "I’m not very good on roller skates," he said.
"If a 5’4" Mexican-American from Southern California can achieve goals, you can too," Parra told the students. "You have to believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, who will?"
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