Tag Archives: Derek Parra


I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Derek Parra last week, Olympic gold and silver medalist in speed skating from the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.  He is author of the autobiography Reflections In The Ice.  We met in an intimate setting at my friend’s house (she had bid at an auction for him to come and join our Book Club for the evening).  I bound up to him with a huge smile on my face and called out his name in a friendly greeting.  It is unusual meeting someone whose autobiography you have read, as you feel so familiar with them.

The evening with Derek was wonderful.  I was so impressed by him.  His story is of a simple upbringing with limited resources and support, but through sheer determination and hard work he achieved great successes.  The thing that struck me most about him was his display of humility.  Others in his position, having been the top in their field and earned two Olympic medals, might walk around with their chest puffed out and a sense of superiority, but not Derek.  He was as interested in us as we were in him.  He was thoughtful, humble, and unassuming.  He was not too proud even to help grab clean-up supplies when my friend’s baby regurgitated!  He was one of us.

It was a pleasure meet Olympic medalist Derek Parra.  He was one of the most humble people I have had the pleasure of meeting.

With Olympic medalist Derek Parra. He is one of the most humble people I have had the honor of meeting.

My first memory of humility was at elementary school.  A child had been asked to play a piece on the piano to the entire school.  He must have been about 9 or 10.  He sat at the piano the way I have now seen several talented pianist do (including our wedding musician Richard Souther), his long fingers arched and body bent low over the keys, as if being drawn into the instrument itself.  The child’s playing was beautiful and displayed a rare talent.  As the echoes of the melody ceased, we broke into rapturous applause.  The boy’s response will stick with me – he stood, gave a slight, almost imperceptible, submissive bow of his head, and slunk along the edge of the crowd back to resume his space, crossed legged on the floor, as if nothing had just happened.  I was surprised.  After a performance like that I was expecting a grand bow and wide grin, and to lap up the limelight.  But not he.

I have witnessed many other displays of humility and modesty in my life, be it friends who are incredibly intelligent and intellectual and went to the best schools in the country, but will never divulge this information, certainly not upon first meeting and unless specifically asked.  Or someone receiving an award, who basks little in the glory themselves but attributes their success to all the others who helped them get there.  Their humbleness always impresses me.  I feel it demonstrates the idea that – I am just one of you, don’t put me on a pedestal, we are all talented in our own way.  I find the opposite display of behavior – arrogance and boastfulness – such a turn-off.

However, I have been wondering, is a certain level of pride ok?  We are told to be proud of our achievements or to have national pride.  What does pride mean?  It is a confusing term. Even the dictionary definition (from Merriam-Webster) of proud and pride point to their meanings as something both reasonable and something excessive.
Proud, adj
having or displaying excessive self-esteem, much pleased, having proper self-respect.
Pride, n – inordinate self-esteem, a reasonable or justifiable self-respect, delight or elation arising from some act, possession, or relationship.

This is confusing being defined as both reasonable and excessive.  Pride has been described as one of the seven deadly (or cardinal) sins, the sin that leads to all other sins, and it also falls into the ninth (and most wicked) circle of Hell in Dante’s Inferno.  That seems to show an overriding view by some that pride isn’t good.

Perhaps there are two different types of pride though?  The self-righteous, self-worshipping pride (excessive) and then being proud of a job well done (reasonable).  Feeling proud of your country and citizens and thankful for things your country has, such as rights and freedoms, natural beauty, etc. (reasonable) and thinking that your country is superior to all others (excessive).  Celebrating your child’s success, be it academic, social, or in sports (reasonable) and telling your child that they are better than others (excessive).  We all have talents, strengths, and gifts.  Some people, like Derek, through their drive and determination, achieve great successes that are recognized globally.  Others achieve incredible things every day, which might go unnoticed, perhaps due to their modesty and humility.

Which brings us back to humility – the quality or state of being humble.  The dictionary describes
Humble, adj -not proud or haughty: not arrogant or assertive; reflecting, expressing, or offered in a spirit of deference or submission; ranking low in a hierarchy or scale.
So, is it good to be humble?  While some of these traits would seem positive, such as not being haughty or arrogant, and offering deference to others; some, such as not being assertive or ranking low, might not seem as appealing.

I wonder if we can find a balance between humility and pride.  I try to remind myself and those I love to find that equilibrium.  I talk about it with my husband.  We think about it at church.  Let’s live in a world where we can celebrate our successes, but remember those who got us there; where we can be thankful for what we have, but not think we are better than others.  As C.S. Lewis eloquently put it “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” I like that.



I recently had the opportunity to do a service project abroad – at a shelter for girls in Jamaica.  I was very excited at the prospect.  I have helped with service in my local communities before, such as visiting the elderly, fundraising events, and so on.  But until this point I had never done something of this kind overseas.

We were asked to bring items with us that would be beneficial to the girls, such as school supplies, toiletries, and bedding.  I was glad to be taking a donation by-hand to those in need and knowing our gift would get to the right people.   In a world with greed and corruption there is sometimes worry about how much aid gets to the real cause when giving to a charity.  This way would leave no doubt.

I bought my items with eagerness and anticipation; I was so enthusiastic I told the staff in the shops what they were for.  They congratulated me and said it sounded like a great cause.  I did not want to appear boastful or self-indulgent declaring my good deeds.  It is much truer to do something purely for the good of others without desire for self-promotion.  But I was so thrilled about the project I wanted others to know about it and for them to think about service projects too.  It made me think we could all do more, we could take items for those in need whenever we travelled to poor areas.  It was opening my eyes – the possibilities were endless.

We arrived in Jamaica and the day came for the project itself.  The group I was with dressed in our matching t-shirts and were transported to the shelter.  A tall perimeter chain-link fence topped with coils of rusty barbed-wire met us.  This seemed a little ominous, but the bright buildings within proved to cheer the place up, painted in the colors for which Jamaica is known – shades of canary yellow and emerald green.

Upon seeing us arrive the girls immediately ran to the fences, curling their fingers around the wire or pushing their arms through to touch us.  The scene was so moving and heartbreaking I wanted to pull out my camera straight away and capture it all.  But I held back, I thought it might seem uncouth and insensitive to immediately begin snapping away.  The principal of the school greeted us and spoke about the shelter.  The girls were here for their own safety and in custody of the state.  Their stories were tragic – of abuse and neglect.

During our visit we were given the option to spend time interacting with the girls, or to put our man-power to use in building a goat enclosure or rabbit hutches, to enable the girls to take care of these animals, as part of a 4-H youth-development program they were doing.   I began with building, but after helping dig a few holes and trim some fencing, I wanted to be with the girls.  I have a fondness for children and an affinity to those of an age many of the girls in the shelter were.  I left the bright Jamaican sunlight and headed down the dusty steps into their rudimentary building.

Spending time with the girls at a shelter in Jamaica.

Spending time with the girls at a shelter in Jamaica.

Some of the girls were showing the visitors their sewing projects, others were at computers.  They were intrigued by technology, drawn to the phones and cameras carried by many of us – wanting to hold them and use them.  Girls were crowded round iPhones listening to music or playing games.  Others were snapping away photos on recently borrowed cameras. This made me nervous.  I had seen a friend’s camera dropped by a tourist that morning and I didn’t want the same thing to happen to mine.  It is expensive and I am protective of it.  I tentatively let one of the girls take some photos, but soon wanted it back in my possession.

It is interesting the concept of possessions.  Many of us have an abundance of them and we take them for granted.  The girls had very little.  I noticed they were keen both to look at and use our possessions  but also to see what they could acquire.  Some of the girls asked if they might have their visitor’s sunglasses for example, or did we have any money we could give them?  One of the girls told people it was her birthday to see if they had anything they could give her.  I gave her the food I had with me, others gave her their belongings or dollars (although we were asked to avoid this as it would cause battles between the girls).

The skeptic in me wondered if it really was her birthday.  I felt disheartened and frustrated by the keenness of the girls to get things from us, and also felt defensive of my belongings.  I had envisioned spending time chatting with these young ladies, learning about them, playing, and perhaps teaching them something.  But it was not panning out like I had imagined.  It led me to think that my time was better spent outside helping build something for the girls so as to leave something physical and lasting for them, or capturing photos of the project, which is what I returned to do.

After I left the shelter I had conflicted feelings.  I was pleased I could help with the project, but sad at my interactions with the girls.  But after reflecting and chatting to other visitors, it made me open my eyes and heart to what had happened.  I saw things differently.  I shouldn’t have judged the girls.  They had almost nothing of their own, no home and family, and had suffered neglect or abuse.  Life was not easy for them.  They had likely just learned to get things where and when they could.  They were desperate for something to call their own.  And perhaps it was a matter of survival for them.

I thought about how much of my time at the shelter I was capturing photos, and I am glad to have these for myself and others to remember the project by, but I wished for more of the time I had put my camera and wallet away, if I was worried about them, and really just engaged and interacted with the girls.  I wished I had talked to them more and got to know them.  I realized that visiting the girls at the shelter did me a service too.  It helped remind me not to judge people, to think beyond what is before me, to open my eyes and heart to others, and to be present and real with those around me.   I am thankful for this and look forward to my next service project with my eyes and heart open.




Since writing this post, I read something on the topic of frustration that made me think.  It was in Olympian Derek Parra’s book Reflections In The Ice “Frustration occurs when our results don’t match our expectations.  We experience frustration because we expect better.”  It made me think about my frustrations that day with the girls and their behavior, and my subsequent berating of myself for feeling frustrated with them.  I had come to terms with why the girls acted like they did, but I had not fully done so with myself.  In thinking about Derek’s comments, I realized that I could ease up on myself.  I acknowledge that my feelings of frustration were because I wanted my contact with the girls to go better.  My frustrations were coming from a good place – it was because I cared.