Gold-medal winning Olympic speedskater Derek Parra will take the weekend off from his job at Home Depot to be the special guest athlete of the 21st annual Big Sky State Games next month in Billings.
Parra, who won gold and silver medals at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, will light the torch and address the audience during opening ceremonies on Friday, July 14, at the MetraPark grandstand. The opening ceremonies will be held at MetraPark this year due to the construction and renovation under way at Daylis Stadium.
The 36-year-old Parra began his skating career on wheels in 1984 at the age of 14 in his hometown of San Bernardino, Calif.
After a 12-year career as a professional inline skater in which he won two national championships and set two world records (1,500 meters and 42K), Parra switched to speedskating in 1996 and has since become one of the most decorated athletes in the history of the sport.
Parra qualified as an alternate for the 1998 Olympic team. He did not compete in the '98 Games in Japan, but his career took off in the winter of 1999.
In addition to winning gold in the 1,500 meters and silver in the 5,000 meters at Salt Lake City, Parra is a three-time national champion, a two-time overall world champion and a two-time world record holder (1,500 meters and 42K). He was the most decorated athlete at the 1995 Pan Am Games in Argentina, winning five gold medals, two silvers and a bronze.
Parra, who is of Mexican descent, has been named as one of Hispanic Business Magazine's 100 Most Influential Hispanics in the United States and has been active in the arena of education. He is a spokesperson for the National Hispanic Press Foundation encouraging education among Latinos and has established two Derek Parra scholarships earmarked for Latino students.
Parra works at Home Depot in Salt Lake City, where he now resides with his wife and daughter, and takes part in Home Depot's Olympic Job Opportunities Program.
Though he stands just 5-foot-4 and 140 pounds, Parra has a bit of a sweet tooth — he likes to eat an entire box of Fig Newtons the night before a big race.
NOTES: The gates for opening ceremonies will open at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, July 14. The parade of athletes will begin at 8 p.m. and the Montana Mile will start around 8:45 p.m. Tickets are $5 and children 6 and under will be admitted free. State Games participants are admitted free with the opening ceremonies ticket included in their athlete packet. Fitness Walk participants and 5K runners need to check in at the sport tent outside the grandstand for admission credentials.