Saturday, February 18, 2012

Dreaming of Gold

On February 13th, my school had the chance to hear from Derek Parra. The name meant absolutely nothing to my students. Most of my students were between the ages of 1-4 when he was an Olympic speed skater in the 2002 games. I remember getting his autograph when I was my students age. He was a great motivational speaker and the kids all loved listening to him!

He passed around his medals. All of the teachers were so shocked and nervous that something would happen to them. The kids loved touching them and being able to have a small part of Olympic history in their hands. I only got to see the gold medal. And let me just say that it was heavy. Seriously! I mean it makes sense that it was heavy, it is gold after all. But it weighed more than I would have guessed.

Obviously the medals meant a lot to Derek. But they were still just pieces of metal. He is really humble and totally relatable. He encouraged everyone to reach for their dreams no matter what circumstances you come from. He grew up very poor and had to save every penny just for the chance to be able to go roller skating once a week. Once he started roller skating training, he ran out of money and was grateful to find a job at McDonald's in the super early morning hours. At this time, he also ran out of food and survived on things that McDonald's would throw away that were cold.

After 9/11, his whole life turned upside down. He was thinking of withdrawing from the Olympics because there was more to life than just games. I can't remember what convinced him into staying and competing because watching what happened in New York really challenged his reason for doing things. If you remember, he was one of the 8 athletes that was chosen to carry the trade center flag into the opening ceremony. (My guess as to why he was chosen is because everyone knew how much the attack affected him.) He said that was a moment he will always cherish. As he was getting ready to go, they were told to expect extreme screaming and cheering. But the exact opposite happened, it was so silent you could hear a pin drop he said. The respect and reverence for that flag, meant more to him than he could explain and was probably one of the most spiritual experiences he thought he had ever been a part of.

Sorry the pictures aren't the greatest. He was wearing all black and there were black curtains--fantastic combo. LoL! He is in the bottom left corner. On the projector screen was him standing on the podium for his gold medal. He showed a clip to the kids. The medals are in one of the assistant principals hands. When they got to me, it was time for the assembly to end. I followed him out into the hall and quickly took a picture. :)

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