Portrait of a Master: Derek Parr (GBR)


Derek Parr (GBR)

Derek Parr is a happy man, who has been able to live his passion for swimming throughout both his sporting and working life, as a Masters swimmer and sports journalist. But the road was long until reaching “excellence”: Derek had to wait until 2009, the year of his 65th birthday, to reach the peak of his career and break his first Masters World record in the 200m butterfly event.

Derek Parr discovered swimming at age seven, but at the time, he would rather play football or cricket at school. When swimming Coach Chris Jay introduced him to dolphin butterfly a few years later, however, Derek was hooked and swimming became his number one sport. In the 1960s, he swam at county and university level.

Then he started working as a journalist for Reuters news agency, covering swimming among other sports at the Olympics and FINA World Championships, and did not go back to the pool before the early 1980s, when he participated in a few Masters meets. He was next based in Paris for four years before settling back in England with his family in 1988.

In 1989, Derek starts training more seriously. At the time, he remembers, “I found I wasn’t as unfit as I’d feared”. During his first-year comeback, Derek wins his first national Masters medals. His motivation reinforced by such success, he steps up his training with the Otter and Broomfield Park swimming clubs in the London area in 1992.

Derek makes the 200m butterfly his pet event. In 1999, he wins his first European Masters title in Innsbruck, Austria, repeating the feat in 2005 and 2009. Derek is also crowned World champion in the same event in 2004 (Riccione, Italy) and 2006 (Stanford, United States). “Going into 2010,” he says, “my tally of national Masters titles stood at 87, with 11 European and 45 British records and about 800 medals all told.”

Derek Parr (GBR)

Enjoying an early retirement, Derek hopes to intensify his training. He now trains four to five times weekly. On his performances, Derek notices that, “starting from a fairly modest base, I have been fortunate, 40 and more years on, to maintain and in some cases improve on the times of my younger self.”

Beyond awards, something else explains Derek’s passion for Masters and swimming. In his eyes, “the camaraderie and shared goals of club-mates, the friendly rivalries with swimmers from home and abroad at regional, national, European and World Masters championships, the dedication and generous encouragement of coaches, the fellowship of those who give their time to officiate at meets and help run the sport and, of course, the general benefits swimming brings for health and fitness” are all worthwhile reasons to practise the sport.

But there is also motivation at the “highest” level. “I have been privileged over the years to witness the phenomenal exploits of such great champions as Vladimir Salnikov, Michael Gross, Alexander Popov, Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps. They and their rare like are in a sphere way beyond the rest of us but what an inspiration in the wonderful world of water.”