Eyes on the Prize
Have you ever personally met a superhero?
Superman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman – it seems heroes today are all the rage in the entertainment industry. Overwhelming box office numbers would have you to believe that the people of this world are in desperate need of someone to put their hope in, something bigger to believe in.
But heroes don’t always wear capes. They don’t always scale tall buildings or soar through the sky.
Sometimes, a hero can be found right here in your own community. Someone who gives tirelessly to a cause. Someone who puts their own life on the line to help another. Someone who serves as a role-model through heroic acts and incredible feats.
That is where our very own Lea Ann Parsley enters the story.
A 1990 graduate of Marshall University and a Logan, West Virginia native, Parsley is one who checks off nearly all of the traits a good superhero should possess.
First, and most fitting, super-hero like abilities. A two-sport athlete here at Marshall in basketball and track, Parsley honed her athletic abilities as a member of the Thundering Herd as a two-time Marshall University Female Athlete of the Year and, later, a Marshall Athletic Hall of Fame inductee in 2002.
Later in her career, Parsley would take her abilities to the national stage when she earned a position on the U.S. National Skeleton Team and competed for six years on the international world cup circuit. In 1999, her second-place finish in Norway produced the first-ever women’s world cup medal for the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation as she went on to earn a total of seven world cup medals.
Eventually, in 2002, Parsley took her superhero training to the biggest stage of them all where she earned a silver medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games, becoming the first female skeleton athlete to win a medal for the United States.
Finally, any good superhero should possess an overwhelming will to do good for others.
Since 1985, Parsley has worked as a volunteer firefighter, including 20 years as a volunteer firefighter in her hometown of Granville, Ohio, before earning top graduate honors from the Ohio Fire Academy as a professional firefighter cadet in 1995. She went on to be named State of Ohio Firefighter of the Year in 1999 for her part in the rescue of a mother and daughter during a residential house fire.
Like any good hero, Parsley was quick to jump into action when the lives of others were on the line, showcasing her selflessness and dedication to helping others.
Through all of her accomplishments, perhaps her most memorable was when she was one of eight athletes chosen to carry the World Trade Center flag into the Opening Ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics.
So who is the real person behind the mask? Let’s meet Lea Ann in this edition of the Alumni Spotlight.
HERD HEAVEN: First off, please introduce yourself to the world.
LEA ANN PARSLEY: I was born in Logan, West Virginia to Bob and Ruth Ann Parsley, both native West Virginians. I graduated from Granville High School in 1986, then attended Marshall on an athletic scholarship in basketball. I was also a member of the track team for three years. I graduated from Marshall in May of 1990 with a BA in adult health fitness. I have at least four other family members who also graduated from MU including an aunt, uncle, and two cousins.
HH: Talk a little about what you are doing today?
LP: When I wasn’t competing as an athlete, I primarily worked in the fields of healthcare and public safety. I have been a registered nurse since 1992 and also served my community as a professional firefighter/EMT for almost 20 years. I currently work as a school nurse at the Granville Christian Academy where I have the privilege of serving students in grades K-12.
HH: So what brought you to Marshall University in the first place?
LP: Basketball. I wanted very much to play for a Division I school and Marshall was just the right fit. I had a great deal of respect for the coach, Judy Southard, and the program she had built there and I knew from my aunt and uncle that it was an excellent academic institution as well. I had the best of both worlds, academically and athletically speaking, and it was close to a lot of family back home in West Virginia.
HH: So that brings up a great question – how did you eventually go from track and field and basketball to competing in skeleton?
LP: I read about skeleton on the internet while researching corporations who might be interested in sponsoring women’s sports. At the time I was the manager for the USA Team Handball program, headed to the Pan American Games in Canada and the team needed financial help. During my research I saw a recruitment notice for bobsled so I followed up on it and was later introduced to skeleton. It was love at first ride.
HH: So how did seeing that notice lead to an eventual Olympic medal at the 2002 games?
LP: Skeleton athletes have two distinct training programs, in season and off. During the offseason, roughly April to October, we train like sprinters. We do a lot of time in the weight room and on the running track improving power, agility, explosiveness and speed. That’s because we must push our sleds as fast as we can at the start of the race. Once it starts to get cold in October, the track crews begin to make the ice and we can get on our sleds to begin work on our driving skills. The race is a combination of a fast start and good driving.
HH: Several years later, what memory other than winning a medal sticks out most from the 2002 games?
LP: My family. Having them all there was such a tremendous thrill for me as I could not have accomplished any of it without them. My oldest brother has since died after a fierce battle with cancer so looking back on that time when we were all together and enjoying something so unique is extremely special to me. That includes my Olympic coach, Ryan Davenport, as we have since been together for almost 20 years now. He has been my best Olympic souvenir, far greater than any medal. Also, carrying the 9/11 flag during the Opening Ceremonies. Being asked to represent the sliding sports during the OC was a tremendous honor and a memory I will cherish forever. It was also an honor to represent my brothers and sisters in the fire service that day.
HH: Winning a medal is an opportunity that so few people get to enjoy, what was that like for your personally?
LP: Winning an Olympic medal is truly every athlete’s dream going into the Games so I was certainly thrilled to have walked away with one that day. However, our country had just been through the nightmare of 9/11 so my perspective on what “winning” meant was more grounded in that reality than any ambitions I had of stepping onto the podium. It was an honor to have competed and done well, but not just for the sake of sport or any personal goals I might have had. It was for the sake of a hurting nation who needed those Games more than I’m sure we will ever know. It was also the first time that skeleton had been back in the Games since 1948 so a lot of people had been working very hard to ensure it was worthy of that invitation. It truly was a team effort in pulling it off so there were a lot of winners that day including track crews, coaches, team staff and volunteers who put in countless hours to make our race day happen. Stepping up to the podium was a win for them as well. And it was a win for my entire family. It felt good to win for them as well.
HH: What does it take to be good at the sliding sports?
LP: Like any sport, there are physical and mental skills that are necessary to excel. A strong foundation in general fitness is necessary before one can develop the sport specific skills for skeleton, such as the push start and driving. Countless hours are spent in the gym and on the running track in an effort to increase one’s fitness level while countless hours are spent on the ice improving one’s competence level in maneuvering the sled as fast as possible down the course. Athletes must also have the mental skills necessary to compete in high pressure situations and to overcome the trials and difficulties that are part of competing at such high levels.
HH: With the current games in South Korea, do you still enjoy watching the Olympics?
LP: Absolutely. Many of my fellow competitors are now coaches so I enjoy seeing them with their athletes. There are also a few athletes still competing who had just begun sliding when I retired so it’s fun to watch them as well. I have always enjoyed watching the Olympics no matter the event. There is just so much to learn about so many sports that don’t get a lot of coverage here in the U.S. like curling, biathlon, ski jumping, and speed skating.
HH: So back to Marshall, do you have a favorite memory from your time here on campus?
LP: I have very fond memories of gathering on campus with fellow classmates and then walking down to Fairfield stadium on game day. As you got closer to the stadium you could smell the popcorn and burgers and hear the band playing. Of course the new stadium is fantastic, but I really liked how the old stadium felt like such a part of the neighborhood. I also have countless memories of my time playing basketball at MU. I spent a great deal of time in Gullickson Hall and the Cam Henderson Center, my home away from home for four years. I remember the night we packed the Henderson Center, which had never happened for a women’s game before and it was awesome. As usual, the fans were wonderful. We were truly blessed with some very loyal fans whose support was always greatly appreciated.
HH: Favorite Food?
LP: Indian and anything my mom makes.
HH: Favorite Music Genre/Artists?
LP: Gospel bluegrass.
HH: Favorite Movie?
LP: To Kill a Mockingbird.
HH: Favorite Olympic Sport Besides Sliding Events?
LP: In the summer team handball and in the winter alpine skiing and speed skating.
HH: Favorite Marshall Professor?
LP: Too many to name, but they were all in the physical education department!