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Former gold medalist holds to faith amid personal trials

TURIN, Italy (BP)–Four years ago at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, U.S. speed skater Derek Parra seemed to be on top of the world.

In his personal life, Parra and his wife Tiffany had just celebrated the birth of their first child, Mia Elizabeth.

In his professional life, Parra won a silver medal in the 5,000 meters, then set a world record and captured the gold in the 1,500 meters -– becoming the first Mexican-American to win a gold medal in the Winter Olympics.

How things change in four years.

The Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, don’t hold the same meaning for Parra as they did the last time. For one thing, he struggled even to make the Olympic team, and most experts consider him, now 35, a long shot to defend his title in the 1,500 meters.

More importantly, he and his wife endured a painful divorce that shook Parra’s faith and left his world in shambles.

But through it all, Parra still clings to his faith in God as he struggles through the darkest chapter of his life.

“My family, my friends and my faith is what’s gotten me through it,” Parra said. “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever been through in my life, but I’ve had my friends and my family around me to help me through this. It keeps coming back to my faith as well.”

Parra says he has been encouraged by the number of e-mails he’s received from fans expressing their support in recent days and offering words of encouragement. He especially appreciated the wisdom of a friend who reminded him that God will ultimately bring good out of the situation.

In a story in The Los Angeles Times in December, Parra “alleged that his wife, Tiffany, had been unfaithful,” as the paper put it. During an interview with Baptist Press, Parra declined to affirm or deny that allegation.

“I’m not going to drag her name in the dirt,” he said.

He does have other matters of pressing importance on his mind these days. Today he and his U.S. teammates competed in the team pursuit, but a loss to the Italians ended their medal hopes in the event. On Tuesday, Feb. 21, Parra will seek to win the gold once again in the 1,500 meters.

“I’m just hoping to do my best in both,” Parra said. “The Olympic Games are exciting. We’ve got a couple of medals already for the speed skating team, and it’s nice to be a part of that. I just hope it continues to roll that way.”

Parra was especially pleased to watch his friend Chad Hedrick win gold in the 5,000 meters.

“It was rewarding in a way,” Parra said. “He’s helped me a lot in my struggles this year. I was proud of him, and happy to be a part of it.”

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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