Parra regroups, rebuilds

first_imgBut that sort of schedule didn’t fit with Parra’s go-go-go personality. Particularly when several friends and proteges still active on the national team encouraged him last year to apply for the vacant national coaching job. Parra didn’t get that job, but his candidacy seemed to put an idea in the heads of the U.S. Olympic Committee, which offered to fund the Inline Transition job. A job that screamed “Derek Parra” – who himself had made the transition from inline (roller) skating to ice. With great success, against great odds. Parra is back in position to influence and inspire new generations of U.S. skaters. Just as he did in 2002, when he became the first Mexican-American (and first Inland Empire native) to win a Winter Olympics medal. Parra became a flag-waving, goose-bump-producing success story mostly because of his incredible capacity for gut-busting work. He hopes to communicate that to the kids he coaches. Typically, he’s all fired up. “This has so much potential,” he said. “The neatest thing is I’m starting something that’s never been done before, and I think I’m the right person to do it. “It could be huge.” We tend to think of skiers and figure skaters when it comes to winter sports, but speedskaters are by far the biggest generators of Olympic medals for the USA. Of late, nearly all of those medalists came to the ice from inline. Beginning with Parra, who began on wheels as a teen at San Bernardino’s iconic Stardust Roller Rink; continuing with Chad Hedrick, Joey Cheek, K.C. Boutiette … The transition program, the brainchild of USOC official Kelly Skinner, Parra said, is funded for 18 months. Parra is allowed to bring up to 10 inline skaters to the Salt Lake area to train on ice at Kearns, Utah, the new home of U.S.Speedskating. He will see if they love the ice enough to give up their more lucrative inline careers. “Do they want to skate to make money? Or skate for their dreams?” “Dreams” is code for “Olympics.” There is no Olympics for inline skaters, and most of them seem to prefer to chase the Olympic dream – if they are good enough. Parra will help them decide. Skating on wheels is markedly different than skating on blades. Parra knows all about it, having made the switch in 1996, when he was 26 and an inline god who struggled on ice – almost right up to winning those two Olympic medals in 2002. Parra doesn’t know if he will remain in coaching; for now, he said, he is making less money than he did making speeches and working for Home Depot. “But skating is still in my blood. I like being able to help my friends who are still training.” Meantime, life is settling down. His divorce from wife Tiffany is almost final, and Parra will get some time with his daughter Mia, 5, who lives with her mother in Orlando, Fla. Parra’s mother, Maria, plans to move to Salt Lake “so we can be a family,” and he is looking forward to that. His family in San Bernardino is thriving, he says. Life is good. It almost always is for Derek Parra. He sees to it. He wills it. Even after the occasional rough times. That’s part of being Derek Parra. “With everything that’s happened the last year and a half, I’m living someplace I love, I’m still in a sport I have a passion about, I’m teaching people, like the people who taught me. “I’m happy,” he said. “I’m happy.” Turns out, a year ago … he was skating into a golden sunset, after all. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! A year ago, Derek Parra was speedskating off into … well, certainly not the sunset. Storm clouds, maybe. Or perhaps a brick wall on the other side of a fog bank. In his farewell Olympics, he couldn’t keep the competition in sight in individual races. He and two teammates failed to last even one round in the pursuit event. A week after the Turin Games, he did a farewell race at Heerenveen, Holland, doing three slow circuits of the track in front of standing and cheering fans. He came off the ice and wept. For good reason. His relationship with the skating federation was testy, his personal life was a well-publicized mess and his short-term future looked like it might require a dark room and a bottle of strong drink. center_img But we underestimated the energy, drive and tenacity of the little guy from San Bernardino’s gritty Westside. The man who won gold and silver medals at the 2002 Salt Lake Games. And who now holds a key new national-team coaching position. Parra heads up the new “Inline Transition Program,” making the 36-year-old Eisenhower High School alumnus a potentially pivotal figure in U.S. Speedskating history. Again. “A few months after the Olympics, I had to decompress,” Parra conceded as he drove through the Utah night while speaking into a cell phone. “I’d wake up, run, play nine holes of golf, work at Home Depot all night. “I did that for a couple of months. My golf game was getting pretty good, actually.” last_img