AN OU INSTRUCTOR SHARES HER OLYMPIC EXPERIENCE.
Iona Wynter Parks, OU French Instructor
Year: 2000 Summer Games
Location: Sydney, Australia
How did you get started in the sport?
I started as a swimmer in high school, then in a club, then for Jamaica, and then swam in university. I competed in a few triathlons in Jamaica for fun but got into triathlon seriously while in college in Canada. I was looking for a way to stay in shape during the summers without having to swim those thousands of metres in an Olympic pool. Then, I figured out I was better at triathlon than I was at swimming, meaning I could attain a higher level than I could as a swimmer.
How did you decide you wanted to compete in the Olympics?
It was announced in 1994 that triathlon was ratified to be included in the Sydney 2000 Games for the first time. That’s when I said to myself I was going to see about getting to those Games. I put everything into that: delaying higher education, a career in education and leaving family to chase that dream.
It meant travelling to races held around the world and living in places like Australia where I could train with other athletes under triathlon coaches. I had equipment sponsors that provided gear like bikes, running and swimming apparel, but no money. I lived prize check to prize check. If I didn’t place in an event, I wasn’t going to be able to pay the rent or buy that ticket to the next event.
Because it was the inaugural Olympics for triathlon, the International Triathlon Union, the governing body for the sport, did not yet have a qualification process. At first, the points earned in races counted in world rankings. As the Olympic cycles continued, the qualifying process became more clear and aligned with standards comparable in other sports such as cycling. This was fine for large nations with depth in athletes that could afford to send different and fresh teams to World Cups. But for a country like Jamaica, that only had me, I had to go to as many World Cups as I could afford to get to, so I could score points for me and the country. I managed to do it and qualify myself and Jamaica.
Financially, I had great help in the last two years from Chris Blackwell from Island Records who found Bob Marley and U2. But by the time the Olympics came, I was exhausted from the constant travel and the pressure of being the only one in the process.
What is your top Olympic experience or memory?
I want OU athletes—as well as all OU students who have their dreams in theater or music or anything else—to make the connection between being a protagonist in their own lives and the stories they are reading in class. Even if it seems as though going for their dream is out of range, maybe even flat out bananas at times, there is great satisfaction in having legitimately tried.
I have a general feeling of accomplishment and pride in achieving an objective I set out to do and that took many years of work to reach that goal. I am proud I was a pioneer for my country: I raced for Jamaica in an event with no prior legacy. As the years go by, I’m still shocked there have been no follow-up triathletes for Jamaica, male or female, who have managed to qualify. I am tough from the experience because of what it took to get there – the results sheets never tell the whole story.
I want OU athletes—as well as all OU students who have their dreams in theater or music or anything else—to make the connection between being a protagonist in their own lives and the stories they are reading in class. Even if it seems as though going for their dream is out of range, maybe even flat out bananas at times, there is great satisfaction in having legitimately tried. That satisfaction will remain even after the sting of disappointment of not achieving the objective has dissipated.
The flip side of never trying is regret. I hope students can be inspired by some of the stories they read in classes where paths have been created because that was the way a protagonist saw fit in that moment and space, navigating the circumstances, the conditions of his/her time. To ask themselves the questions: Why not me? Why shouldn’t I go for it or be a part of something I truly believe in?