Interview with Derek Parra: Olympian & Medal Winner

Speed skater and Gold and Silver Medalist, 2002 Salt Lake City, talks about growing up, making the team and living the dream

By Armando F Sanchez, Contributing Writer
Published on LatinoLA: August 28, 2014

Interview with Derek Parra: Olympian & Medal Winner

Originally broadcast at Latino Role Models and Success. Republished by permission.

Armando Sanchez: I understand that you are from San Bernardino, California. Now from what I know about San Bernardino is that there is no snow there. How did it happen that you learn to ice skate and become an Olympic gold medalist?

Derek Parra: When you say the sentence "a Mexican-American from San Bernardino as an Olympic ice skater" it's a sentence that does not easily go together. I grew up roller-skating. I get asked a lot of how I got to be an ice skater. It was a long, long journey and a lot of doors opened to lead me to the ice.

First, I grew up as a 14-year-old kid roller-skating in a roller rink and just having fun. My brother went and I begged him to take me with him. I really enjoyed it. I loved the lights and music and as a 14-year-old with girls all around I found it was a great place to go and I met all kinds of people. People I met opened my world. I lived in a predominantly African-American and Latino community and what we primarily did was play stick ball in the street and we used the manhole covers for home base and 2nd base and neighbor's trees for1st and 3rd base.

Skating opened up a whole new world for me. I met kids from different parts of the city whose parents had different jobs and it really opened my eyes of what was out there plus I loved doing it. At this time my parents were divorced and I lived with my dad. He was raising my brother and me. I remember that my father could not provide us with money and I was always thirsty when I would go skating. The admission was $3.75 and all I had was $4.00. After a video game and skating around in the hot lights I got very thirsty. During the skating session there was usually a race where the winner would win a free drink.

Armando Sanchez: So you were racing just to get something to drink!

Derek Parra: Yes and it was a lot of fun. It was hard at first, but I noticed that people who beat me had these speed roller skates so right then I started to save money so that I could buy a pair. I got a paper route and started mowing lawns to earn the money to get some speed skates. I started to get better and skating more. After a while I started to win the races and I won a stack of free drink tickets. At that point the manager of the rink who was also a speed skating coach as well asked me to try out and join their racing team. I joined and eventually moved up to advance to the national level and as I got older I went to the international level.

Armando Sanchez: It is clear that preparing to race got to be very time consuming plus having part-time work. What did your peers think about you since you were always busy?

Derek Parra: It was really weird. I actually had two lives. My school life and my skating life. I would get up every morning and go to school (Shandon Hills J.H and then Eisenhower H.S.), study hard and do my homework. I was also on the wrestling team in high school and then I would go home. Once there I would get a ride to skating practice. Once I got home, I would begin my homework. One the weekends we would practice in different parts of California like Santa Ana, Garden Grove or Riverside where there were different teams as well as in San Bernardino. The goal was to skate against better skaters.

Armando Sanchez: It sounds like something all students should do in high school and college. They should compete against better students and thus learn from them.

Derek Parra: Absolutely. Thus I had my school friends and my skating friends. Again, I did have two lives. They actually worked well together. My friends at school, I saw at school events and then I had my weekend friends that I skated with. It was hard. I had to budget and balance my time so that I could get to everything. When I wrestled in high school, I would get up very early every morning to go run and then go to school and then after school, I would go to skate practice and then come home a do my homework.

Armando Sanchez: Did people think you were crazy since you were always on the go?

Derek Parra: A lot of people did not understand it. Sometimes someone saw me riding my bike with bike shorts and shirt on me and they would shout "nice spandex"! They were somewhat joking with me. If I didn't go out with them, they wanted to know why I would not join them. I would explain that I had to get up the next morning and do many things and prepare to race. All of the competitions were in roller rinks and the doors would open at 5 or 6 in the morning and the competition would end by noon. We would leave and the people that arrived later never knew there had been a competition there that morning. Sometimes I had to travel distances to compete.

In general, people just did not understand and were not educated in the sport. Many probably thought I was some kind of disco skater or something like that. Even my dad did not understand it. He was a traditional sports guy. He was into baseball and football. He never went to see me skate. He was not sure there was much to a sport where one would race around in a spandex suit. It was not until I moved away from home that he started to get into it and appreciate the sport.

Armando Sanchez: How did you convert over to ice-skating?

Parra: Not until I was 26 years old. I graduated from high school a semester early because I was accelerated and AP courses and the credits applied to help me graduate early. I wanted to graduate so that I could work to make this dream I had which was to make the US team for roller-skating. I left home at 17 years of age and I moved from California to Florida. I didn't know a soul in Florida. They only person I knew was a coach who thought I had the talent to compete. I lived at his home for a few years with his family.

Armando Sanchez: How did this come about?

Parra: Well actually I was traveling around the nation in places like Nebraska, Illinois, Florida and after the national competition there was this invitational camp in Couderay, Wisconsin which is out in the middle of nowhere. This coach saw me and told me that if I ever wanted to get serious about roller-skating to let him know. He had a history of taking kids from different parts of the country and they live in his house and he trains them to make the US team. He just likes skating and he likes to see people achieve their dreams. I said great and thanks. He told me to first focus on finishing school and you can have the rest of your life to skate. I remember finishing school and leaving home with $200 in traveler's checks in my pocket plus my bike and some clothes. I just dove in head first.

Armando Sanchez: I don't think the $200 went far?

Derek Parra: Yes, there was a matter of rent, practice fees, food and competition meet registration fees. Things got really hard at first and I ran out of money. The first job I got was at a McDonalds. I was working from 4 or 5 in the morning to 11:30 in the morning. It was the only job I could get so that it gave me enough time to train the rest of the day. When I skated here in California I would get a ride to practice three times a week and skate for two hours and get a ride home again. But in Florida everyone in the house would get on their bicycles and rode 32 miles to practice and once finished they would bike back another 32 miles. If there wasn't enough daylight, then we would get to ride a van back home. Practices were about two hours.

Armando Sanchez: How many times a week would you do this?

Derek Parra: We would do this 5 or 6 days a week. So in a way I went from nothing to everything. It was very hard. I was being pushed by guys behind me and girls in front of me would be blocking the wind to make it easier for me. I was not in shape for this, but I kept plugging away and it was something I really enjoyed the progress and improvements. I realize that I gave up my life, my friends and my girlfriend at the time for this. In a way I also gave up my family for a time to dedicate my all to this and see if I could make it come true.

Armando Sanchez: What made you believe that you could make the dream come true?

Derek Parra: I don't know. I guess I just thought I could. I wanted to progress. I knew that it was not going to be a matter of one year and boom I would be at the top. I just knew that I enjoyed skating, I enjoyed learning, I enjoyed the training and pushing myself and working to beat the odds because I was a young Mexican kid and there were not a lot persons like me in this sport. I had to contend with the fact that my competitors were a lot bigger than I was, but I loved the "cat and mouse" strategy of it. I loved meeting people and seeing different parts of the country. All that really opened my eyes.

Armando Sanchez: It sounds like your life was busy but not boring.

Derek Parra: It was stressful at times, but there was always something new. I was doing and trying something that was part of chasing my dream. I had short term and long term goals. The short ones were just to get better in the nation and the other was to make the US team. Once I made the US team then it was to win a gold medal and then after that I wanted to win more in different distances. I also worked to set a specific year to set to accomplish a certain goal.

Like I said, I worked at McDonalds and at one point I had to eat the food out of the trash cans because I had no money. It was not that I was going into the dumpster and eating the trash that other people threw away. I kind of developed a system where for two weeks I had no money because I was working and waiting to get my first paycheck. In the restaurant they had a system where you made breakfast sandwiches and put them in heating bin and they can only stay there for 10 minutes since that was what they considered fresh by their standards. Once the ten minutes passed, then they throw them in the garbage.

I would start the grill in the morning and later on in the morning before quitting time I would add to the bin so that there was some left over and the manager would ask that I throw it out before I left work and I would grab all the food out to the garbage can and there I would take it out and chow down. This did not work all the time because the church bus would come in and clean out everything and I knew that now I would be starving.

Armando Sanchez: What an irony that you would be making food and starving at the same time!

Derek Parra: I finally got my paycheck and things started to get better. I started paying back my debts and I was doing better in skating and I was able to make it to the US tryouts that summer.

Armando Sanchez: I am confused. You were skating on the rubber, but your medal was for skating on ice. How did the switch take place?

Derek Parra: I was not on the ice until 1996. In 1988 I was 18 years old and skating on rubber and I made the US tryouts. Between the age of 18 and 19 I went out to try to be on the US team tryouts. Then I was on the US team from 1989 until 1996 when I retired. In that span I moved from Florida to Maryland and then to Delaware with my coach. During that time I met my wife and I had won 18 world titles and set two world records and was the most decorated athlete of the sport when I retired at 26.

The reason I retired was because when I started they told us that our sport was going to be the Olympics. At that point my focused changed from just winning national championships to be racing in the Olympics and having the chance to win a medal. I had won every distance race in the nationals twice in different years. I was always trying to challenge myself and after a while there wasn't many more new challenges left in the sport.

At the Pan-Am games in 1995 which were in Argentina. I was the most decorated athlete of all sports there. This was my first taste of an Olympic experience. This was the second biggest sporting event next to the Summer Olympics. So at that point I started to get the itch for the Olympics. A friend of mine was an inline skater who had transferred over to ice in 1994 and did well and made the Olympic team that year. I had always said that I was willing to trade all of my gold medals for a chance to compete for an Olympic medal. He kept telling me to try. In 1995 I was winning gold medals and I thought that I was doing well and I didn't think about switching over to ice. That summer in Atlanta roller skating was not included as part of the Olympic summer sports and at that point in December, I went over to Milwaukee from a world championship and I flew into Colorado Springs and I drove back to Delaware and on the way back I stopped in Milwaukee and I tried ice for the first time. I was on the ice for a couple of days and went on home and then went back for about two weeks and I had to compete to make the national trials for the ice championships. In those national trials I earned a bronze medal in the 5K and 10K races. So I earned a spot on the national team of ice-skating.

At that point I went back to my wife and asked her "what do you think about this"? "What do you think about me trying ice-skating and this could be my ticket to the Olympics"? Somehow I talked her into it and we moved from Delaware to Milwaukee and for the next year and a half I tried to make the Olympic team of 1998. I made the US Olympic team, but when I got to Japan I was the last skater to be entered because only the top 32 make it and I was 32nd and the day before I was supposed to race and my wife and family are flying over there was an entry mix-up and they put someone on the list in front of me and I was not on the list and not able to start. At that point it was a total letdown. I had done so much and here I am not able to be part of the Olympics. I enjoyed the experience of visiting the village and talking to people but, I did not have a good taste in my mouth when I left there. I was not satisfied. When I came back I again talked to my wife and again I asked her what she thought of me preparing for 4 more years.

Armando Sanchez: Boy that must have taken some energy to convince her.

Derek Parra: At that point she told me that I had to get a job. When I was younger, I was managing a roller rink, but when I moved I had to give it up. I started to look for a part-time job in Milwaukee but it was hard with so much traveling involved. That is when I got involved with Home Depot. They have this Olympic job program where persons like myself can work part-time and get full-time benefits. That helped out tremendously and made it easier for me to train better and we were getting some regular income and we could start paying bills.

I started to take more charge of my training and I had a new coach that agreed with what I was doing and we started building. Every year it got better and better and then I had my success in the Olympics. It became more difficult because a year before the Games I was told to live in Salt Lake City to get adjusted to the altitude and ice conditions, but there was housing in the training area in Salt Lake for me but not for my wife. Only the athletes were provided housing. So my wife went back to live with her parents back in Florida while I was in Utah and then two months later we learned that she was pregnant.

So here we are in the final year before the Olympics, she is going to have our first child and I lived somewhere else training. We saw each other about once every two months during the year. I was able to get to Florida to see my child born and then I had to fly back to Salt Lake for the Olympic trials and then to Europe for some final World Cup events and I returned to Salt Lake to prepare to skate in the winter Olympics.

Armando Sanchez: I feel tired just listening to all the talk about racing and having to constantly move around. What a busy schedule! It sounds that you have been a very busy and persistent person since you were a kid.

Derek Parra: I guess I learned early on that if it is not worth doing well, it's not worth doing at all.

Armando Sanchez: Many hear those words, but many never take it to heart and yet you did.

Derek Parra: I guess I became a kind of perfectionist. Whatever I did and whatever I was going to spend my time on it should be worthy of the time and reflective of my effort. Whether I was in school or skating or work I was trying to be the best I could be. I was trying to be the most efficient and effective person making burgers or anything else I was going to do. I wanted to be the best kid I could be.

I carry this perception in everything I do. It helps me to focus on every aspect of my life. So whatever I was doing I was trying to be the best. I guess you could call it competitive, but it's just a way of life for me. I think this parallels life because you make little changes all the time in your life and every day I could make little changes in technique, and it would make a difference. So if you apply the same principle to how you live your life, and make little changes in things, they make a difference over a period of time. Apply this principle whether you are helping others, giving assistance or picking up trash. It just changes who you are and how you live. You become a different person. I started doing this from an early age. I see people around me who are great role models.

People who are Christians, people who help others like those that helped me and thought I had talent. I think you get that attention and help from others and then you also want to pass it on and give it away. You want to give it back. When I was on the podium at the Olympics getting my silver and gold medals I saw the faces of those that helped me to get there. I saw my wife and family, my coach and teammates and hundreds of others who helped me get there. I thank the people at the Home Depot that were behind me. I thank all the people that let me work part time and landscaping their houses so that I could get money to pay my rent. It may seem like little things, but all together made it possible for me to get there.

Armando Sanchez: So many persons contributed to make it possible for you to be successful?

Derek Parra: Absolutely. I guess you could say I am a spiritual man and I have faith. Everytime my wife would tell me that we would not be able to pay the next months rent I would say that it is going to be okay. I felt something would come up. I would tell her not to worry and sure enough something would happen. Someone would want to buy something from me or someone said "hey, I need my house painted or can you come and clean my house, or can you babysit, or whatever" and we would make the rent. It was little things like that that people either knew I needed the help or it just happened. It happened too many times to be just a coincidence so I think there is something else involved.

Armando Sanchez: Sounds like no job was too low to make you ultimate dream become a reality?

Derek Parra: No. Actually, I was replacing window screens in my apartment complex to make some money.

Armando Sanchez: So you believed that your dream was going to become true. It sounds that you keep moving despite the menial tasks in order to fulfill your long-term goal.

Derek Parra: I believe that it was possible. I believed in my mind that it was possible to win. There is a saying that "whatever the mind can conceive and the heart can believe, then it can be achieved". I thought and believed that I could win. I kept working at it everyday and I kept that image in my head. I practiced the race in my head every day in my head over and ever again. I could see it. I could touch it in my mind. That is what I would live by everyday and that is what I went for. Even if I didn't win a gold medal because I didn't skate well or I stumbled, or something I would still come away with something from the Olympics and that would have been the people I met, the experience of being there.

I thought of the journey of getting there instead of the possibility of losing. Look what happened along the way. I met my wife and now I have a beautiful daughter and all that because of my skating travels. I look at the people that now I call my family and friends and it all came from skating. The person I am is all from my journey as a skater. I learned to be the best person and skater I could be and that is who I became in my adult life because of the sport and the journey I was on.

Armando Sanchez: So the medal is a level of achievement like a college degree is to the student. Did you have low times and struggles along the way in your journey and if so how did you deal with them?

Derek Parra: That is the time to have good people around you. I think you should surround yourself with people that believe in you and the cause you are going for. I was with people that we were all training for the same thing and we all had the same goal. Yes, there were hard days I had training and my teammates would encourage me through. When they had hard days I would pull them through. As far as facing barriers I truly believe that when one door shuts another opens up elsewhere and you need to find it. That is what I did and if I lost a job something else would come up. Like I said before, I had faith that something was going to come up and it happened.

When things would be really challenging and I just kept thinking that something would come through and again something would. That made it easier, but back then it sometimes seemed devastating like when I went to the Olympics in Japan and I could not compete. I mean, back then I gave up everything to go to Japan and I didn't get to compete because of a clerical error. At that point I could have said "guess what, I quit, that's it, it's not fair, wit's not worth it, it's over"! Yet if I had done that I would have missed the joy I had in 2002. Yes I had the pain and disappointment in 1998 and I think everything happens for a reason.

The reason I did not skate in 1998 was because of what was going to happen in 2002. I did not know it then, but I think of the goal back then and I think of the experience of walking in with my county's flag at the Olympics. By not skating in 1998 it lit a fire in me to go 4 more years and every year it got better and better and I ended up winning. You cannot foresee the future and it is funny now, but back then I was thinking "God, why is this happening to me"? "What happened? I did everything I could"!

Armando Sanchez: Why didn't you give up after the Japan incident?

Derek Parra: I guess because I keep thinking that my dream to be in the Olympics was possible. Just because I had a roadblock that doesn't mean that I had to get out of the car and leave it behind. The key approach was to steer around it. Go off the road if necessary or whatever, but keep going. That is what I had to do and I came back and asked my wife, "what do you think about 4 more years"? I really believe I had the physical and mental capabilities to get further in my sport. I would race in different places and I would find myself building on top of other experiences.

Armando Sanchez: Given your experience of being the best in the world in your area, what lessons do you think you have obtained that students in high school and college can learn from what you have gone through?

Derek Parra: It's not really an issue of learning from me, but learning from what I have learned. I can try to pass on my view. I have learned about sacrifice, seeking perfection, I learned about preparing yourself, I have learned about enjoying the journey and learned about embracing technology. Our sport is so technical. Now we analyze the suits we wear, the type of skates, and the ice conditions. When I was on roller skates I had to learn about the dynamics of roller and in-line skates. I had to keep adapting to new things and changes.

What I tell people is don't see this as just about skating, see it as your life. Seek perfection. Be the best you can be. Embrace technology and the Internet. Embrace new ways of studying and communication. You are going to have sacrifices and it is not easy. There will be times when you don't go out with your friends and you have to study hard for your classes and be willing to prepare yourself. The will to succeed is not as important as the will to prepare for succeed. Success is the end product of preparation. Be willing to live in those dorms and to study hard in order to graduate on time and get the degree you want. Then you need to have faith in that everything you have done in preparing will work out. Know that you have done the best you can and that you have studied the best you could and now you are going to take a step back and let things happen. Again, I recommend that students enjoy the process of the learning experiences.

Enjoy your work since that makes you into who you are and who you will be becoming. You will become the persons from the collection of experiences that you are having. Again, it applies to skating and to life, whether we are talking as parents, students, or working in Corporate America. One should not just go for the ride in life; one should be pursuing something.

Armando Sanchez: It sounds to me that you believe that persons should have a great goal and work with a great deal of passion to realize it.

Derek Parra: Yes, if you are not doing something and you are not giving it all you can, then it is a waste of your time.

Armando Sanchez: How does someone know if they are doing the best they can?

Derek Parra: How do you know? Because you are trying your hardest.

Armando Sanchez: Is it mainly an issue that you are exhausted at the end of the day?

Derek Parra: There is an issue of quantity and quality. You don't want to go out and just ride a bicycle for 5 hours. I rather ride 3 hours at a good effort rather than just coasting around for 5 hours and getting sore in your butt. If there is a 100K bike ride some guys will just coast around and rest going down hill. I prefer to get into a certain speed and try to keep it there throughout the race. I want to get as much quality time out of the experience rather than just pushing pedals. I am working to ride it as efficiently and technically correct as possible. I am trying to hydrate as much as possible. I am doing all those things when I am thinking about skating. I am constantly asking myself, "how does this action affect my skating? How can I improve and get better"? So I am not out there just to put my hands over the handlebars and whistling my way along. Instead I am actively thinking about what I am trying to accomplish. Every work has a purpose.

Armando Sanchez: What I am understanding is that if I am going to sit down and read, I should read the best I can. If I am going to invest my time writing, the write the best. If one is going to research something, then do it at your very best. In other words respect your time and effort and do the very best you can.

Derek Parra: Definitely be the best you can be. I am not saying to be the best in the world, but be the best in your class or in the world if need be. Be the best you can be and you have to be satisfied when you are finished studying that and saying, "okay, I did my very best".

Armando Sanchez: I understand that you are also recommending that students should always keep looking for ways to improve their academic performance levels not only because you are competing against your peers, but because you also want to be the best you can.

Derek Parra: Right. Let's say that I decide to study for a test for an hour. I want to spend all of the 60 minutes studying exactly on what will be on the test. I don't want to sit somewhere for an hour flipping pages randomly to see what stand out and what might be on the test. I am going to get a list of what is going to be on a test and I am going to go through each category in sections knowing that need to be familiar with every point of that section or chapter.

So when you get done, you say, okay I studied the best I could and now I have faith that when I take the test that I prepared the best I could. Again, I don't want to sit with a pencil in my hand and say, "oh no, what do I have to study"? Not being prepared you get to the class and you start pulling at your hair and you start second-guessing yourself. If I went to the starting line without being prepared I would have never done well. People ask me, "weren't you nervous and petrified with all that noise of people chanting and everyone expecting you to win the gold"? the day before my competition for the 5000-meter race people were saying to me "enjoy and have fun at the Olympics Derek".

Actually no one believed I could win that race because I was so far down in the ranking. After I won the silver medal that second after winning everybody was telling me "you can win the gold at the 1500 meter race". Security people, volunteers, spectators, people at work, in gas stations, in cars driving past me, or people in restaurants, teammates, coaches, everyone you can image was telling me that I could win. The morning of the race I was on the cover of the magazine for all the Olympics. It said, "Derek Parra is favored for the gold". You can see that there was a lot of pressure and people wanted to know if I was scared and I told them that honestly the answer is no. That was one of the situations in my life where I was calm and peace over myself. I felt normal. I was warming up and I saw my wife.

I saw people in the stands shouting "Hey, Derek" and I was fine. My coach was more nervous than I was. He asked me if I was fine and I said, "yes, fine". You see at that time I knew that I had done everything I could have in all those years that I have been skating for this one moment and there is nothing I could have done differently to get me prepared for the next 15-minutes I had before the race. I was saying, "okay, all I have to do is skate the best I can and do the best I can and see where it takes me. I finally got on the line and I did feel a little nervous as anyone normally would but once the gun went off I just said to myself, "Skate technically well, skate technically well" and I turned left. Throughout the race I was trying to skate while "living in the moment, but I was seeing myself having a good turn here and once I get to the turn I think to myself, "that was a good turn and do it again next time". At that moment I didn't feel like I was in my body in a way. I felt like I was either ahead or behind myself looking at what I just did and it kept me calm.

Armando Sanchez: It sounds like you were able to stay calm and could concentrate because you knew that you had prepared the best you could have. We have been discussing about the parallel experiences of competing and living. A lot of times people say, " I don't really want to go and bother my teacher or think that if they ask their teacher something, then they may think I am not smart or something along those lines. Can you imagine if someone at your level of competition had the same approach with regards to talking to his or her coaches? What do you think of persons that have that mindset?

Derek Parra: I think that the person is just afraid of making a decision and commitment. They say that the worst question is the one that is not asked. You have to go out there and ask. It is funny because my coach had a habit of telling you what you are doing wrong and there were some coaches that tell you what you are doing right. I once had some teammates who did not like my coach because he pointed out what they did wrong. They wanted to hear what they were doing right. I was the opposite; I kept asking, "what am I doing wrong and what can I fix"? He would tell me and no matter how many times I hurt because I thought I had done it better or right he would say it is not looking right. I still needed someone to tell me that.

Now if you go into the classroom and don't understand a problem, think about it, if you didn't get it right in class or in homework, you are not going to get it right in a test. You got to figure out how to do it and teachers make a big difference because when I was in high school taking calculus I went to one teacher and I told him that I did not understand it. I kept getting "C"s and "D"s and all he kept telling me is to look at the book or read it out of the book. Unfortunately he would never teach me how to do it so I ended up switching classes to another teacher that I had heard was really good and he taught me how to do it. He made me; earn in different ways and opened my path of learning. And with some little rhymes and little clues for me to remember some of the formulas and reading and approaching the problem. I started to get "A"s and "B"s. I had to make a choice to either settle in the class for average grades or choose to change and look for ways to learn it right.

Armando Sanchez: Sounds like you have to have a thick skin when persons are going to point out your weaknesses and understand that it is for your own good. One has to be able to listen to what one is doing wrong and to be able to focus on how it will benefit one rather than how one feels hearing about the need to make a correction.

Derek Parra: Yes. No one is picking on you. What they are saying is that you are not doing it right and you need to fix it. I mean, I still don't like the way I look when I skate and people still tell me that knee is sticking out and I say, "I know, I got to fix it". Here I am a world record holder and I don't like the way I look technically on the ice, but I feel technically better than I have been in the past. So people still me what I am doing wrong and I listen and work on improving my form and I need that.

Armando Sanchez:So there does not seem to be a point where persons can no longer say what you are doing wrong and that you got it all down perfectly.

Derek Parra: I don't think perfection is possible, but I think seeking perfection is what is important. By seeking you raise your level of performance or being a person. No one is perfect. Nobody. Perhaps God is perfect, but you don't have to be perfect unless you are a brain surgeon. But again seeking perfection is important. That race that I ran was not perfect. I missed a step and I put my hand down a couple of times on the turns and I had a couple of missed pushes here and there. So even though I had gone the fastest I had ever gone it still wasn't perfect. The world record was not a perfect race. I keep seeing that perfect race in my mind and I was seeking that technically perfect race and it raised my level of performance and be able to have a gold medal.

Armando Sanchez: Given all your outstanding and beautiful experiences that you have had so far, what would be your closing advice to our readers?

It does not matter who you are or where you come from, or how small or tall you are, what matters is what you believe in your mind. The mind is a powerful thing. I am 5' 3 1/2" and I am in a sport of giants. The average size of a skater is 6'. I was the smallest male athlete at the Olympics. Even the Japanese girls were taller than me. It does not matter where you come from. I am a Mexican-American from Southern California competing in a European sport. It matters what you believe and who you have near you to believe in you. In the times when I was having trouble I had people there to say, "you can do it".

There were times when my wife was 5 or 6 months pregnant and I asked myself, "what am I doing here"? or "why am I away from my family"? My wife would say to me, "keep living your dream, keep pushing yourself". So surround yourself with people that believe in you and you need to believe in yourself. That is so important. You are going to have your ups and downs, but you have to believe and say it to yourself. Believe in your ability to succeed. That is what is important in life. Whether or not you reach perfection or you accomplish your goals, you still have to give it 100% of your effort. You don't want to look back and ask yourself what would have happened if you had given it your all. You got to get to that finish line.

Wherever you are in your journey you got to be able to look back and say, "okay, I did everything I could". I enjoyed the process and the journey in my life and that is who we are and who you are going to be the rest of your life. Your family and people will know you by what you have done. So again, believe in yourself and do the best you can and leave the rest to God.

The interview with Derek Parra was conducted in August 2003. I want to thank Patrick Quinn for making the interview possible.

Copyright 2003 by Armando F Sanchez

About Armando F Sanchez, Contributing Writer:
Armando F Sanchez is a speaker, author, educator, traveler and CEO of Armando F Sanchez Production. His organization produces global digital media programming
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