Inspirational Parkin deserves more recognition

2013-07-13 00:00

MICHAEL Phelps sits alone in Olympic history, having won more medals than any other athlete. In the world of the Deaflympics, South Africa’s Terence Parkin is like Phelps — only he has won a greater number of medals, including more golds — and his career is still going strong.

Parkin is set to add to his amazing record at the Summer Deaflympics, which take place in Füssen, Germany, from July 26 to August 4.

While Phelps finished his Olympic career with 18 gold medals and 22 medals in total, the South African star will go to Germany having already won 29 Deaflympics gold medals. In 2005 in Melbourne, his return was an eye-popping Deaflympics’ record of 12 gold medals and a silver.

Before anyone thinks the Deaf­lympics are not a big deal, the last time they were held in 2009 in Taiwan, 4 000 athletes were in attendance, compared with the Paralympics at London in 2012 where 4 237 athletes took part.

Parkin has always been a star in swimming, but he has not restricted himself to it alone. At the 2009 Deaf­lympics, he contested the road race and picked up a bronze medal. That followed his achievement of winning road race gold at the 2006 World Deaf Cycling Championships and silver in the cross-country mountain biking event.

This time around, in Füssen, Parkin is showing no signs of slowing down. He will be taking on swimming, road cycling and mountain biking but, rather disappointingly, even for a man with an Olympic silver medal, he remains largely uncelebrated in South Africa.

Wayne Riddin, the head coach of the South African team at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, where Parkin won silver in the 200 metres breaststroke, said while he recognises what Natalie du Toit has achieved as a star of the Paralympic world, Parkin has probably achieved more in his career.

“Terence Parkin, who has been deaf for virtually all his life, has achieved so much,” he said. “He got a silver medal in an able-bodied Olympic Games, and he didn’t get as much credit [for it as he should have received] and I think we should be looking at it and saying he is an inspiration to the whole of South Africa.”

Max Cluer is a friend of Parkin’s and a cycling commentator who has worked at the Olympics and at numerous top UCI mountain biking international events around the world. He was astonished to discover that Parkin would be attending this year’s Deaflympics with a seven-year-old mountain bike.

He had to do something, said Cluer, so he called up Andrew McLean of Cycle Lab, who in turn got together with Willie du Plooy of KTM Bike Industries, and they arranged two state-of-the-art KTM bicycles, for road and mountain biking, for Parkin to use at the Deaflympics.

Citing Parkin’s influence in the deaf world, Cluer explained: “He’s such an icon in the deaf community, so much so that last year at our Energiser Night Race in Johannesburg he brought 150 deaf athletes to the event.”

Yet, through it all, Parkin has retained his humility, as the long-time Midmar Mile organiser Riddin recalled. “I go back to when he travelled to Cairo with the SA junior team as an age group swimmer for the first time. It was my first experience of him as a deaf swimmer in an able-bodied team and I remember that he was that fun guy, always with a smile on his face, and he’s still that same guy today.

“He’s still got that face where he comes in and he’s a happy guy in the swimming world, and it’s probably a comfort zone for him.”

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