CBN.com “There’s no reason a 5’4 Mexican American from San Bernardino, CA, should be on the ice, let alone winning a gold medal against guys that are 6’ and taller.”
Derek Parra is the fastest long distance speed skater in the world. He clinched the gold in the 1500m, after setting a new world record. He also took home the silver in the 5000m after setting a new American record, both during the 2002 Winter Olympics. But his journey to the platform was a strange one.
Over the last four years, athletes from all over have been training on the road to Torino for the Winter Olympics 2006, and many of them would say that its hard work that has gotten them to the Olympics. However, Derek would say that it’s his faith that has gotten him there.
The journey began after 12 years as a professional roller skater. Derek really wanted to win an Olympic gold medal, but in order to do that, he would have to make a switch to the ice, and it was a move he’d never forget.
“I was the fastest man in the world at the World Championships, and I came to the ice a couple of days,” Derek recalls. “There were 14-year-old girls who were beating me in the sprints. It’s a humbling experience.”
Derek knew the transition would be difficult. So when training became frustrating, he reflected on some advice he received a few years earlier.
“My coach asked the people who owned this facility if I could train there. The son of the owner of the track was a pastor down the road. He saw I was struggling. I had been here by myself. I was 18, 19, and I didn’t know where I was going with my life. He played me a testimony of a skater that I admired who was a world champion named Bobby Kaiser. He gave me a Bible and said you know, ‘I think you should really think about having a personal relationship with Jesus.’”
Derek didn’t hesitate. He immediately walked back to his trailer and began reading the Bible. Shortly after, he committed his life to the Lord.
“It really helped me get through that. I mean that’s where I really fell in love with Jesus. I got a personal relationship with Him, and He’s been in my life ever since. It really helped me through hard times He was there. If He’s there in the sticks of Kutaway, Wisconsin, He can find me or be with me anywhere.”
Even on the ice. So Derek pushed forward until he got faster and faster.
“With faith you’re never alone. That’s part of the comfort when you’re out there is that the Lord is with you. If the Lord is with you, who can be against you?”
Derek’s first competition on ice was the world championships in Baselga, Italy. The outcome was surprising.
“I had the worst race in my life. It was embarrassing. I embarrassed the team; I embarrassed myself. You race two people at a time, so I had taken off and actually pulled a half lap on him and I was feeling great. All of a sudden, the monkey jumped on my back, and the wet rain and snow was slowing me down. I started getting tired. The skater actually caught me and half lapped me by the end. And I think I finished second to last.”
Derek’s hope for Olympic gold looked bleak. He was confused and didn’t know what to do.
“Something kept telling me to keep going. You have to have faith that it’s going to be better. I really believed that I was on some type of path. That’s what my faith led me to believe. There’s got to be something better.”
He was right. Less than two years later Derek helped carry the US flag from the World Trade Center for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, UT, where he won both gold and silver medals. Recently, with the odds against him, he tried to qualify for his third Olympics.
“I had to go to the line and say, ‘My life is in Your hands. Do with it what You will. Just guide my feet, keep me safe, and if this is what You want, my life is in Your hands.’”
In the last race for qualification, Derek made the team for the upcoming Olympics in Torino. When asked if there was anything he wanted to share about his experience, Derek said, “Life is definitely better with Jesus. There’s going to be hard times. There’s going to be ups and downs, but if you have faith, and you believe Jesus, you’ll get through those times.”
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