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Roger That, Parsons In The Open Water

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Roger Parsons was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, England in 1944. Soon thereafter in 1947, he learned how to swim.

70 years later, he is still involved in the water and continues to serve on the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame selection committee.

Initially coached by his father Fredrick James Parsons, he started to train with his sister Dorothy in 1951.

A year later, he became a junior member of Leeds Gents Swimming Club. He specialized in breaststroke as the Leeds and District Schools champion between 1954 and 1956. By 1957, he was selected to become youngest member of the Leeds Olympic Training Scheme.

He set breaststroke records and continued to win races through 1971 with the Sea Cadets, Royal Navy, Middle East Land Forces, The Combined Services and won the Award of Merit from the Royal Lifesaving Society.

But in 1972, his aquatic career transitioned from the pool to the open water when he swam in his first open water competition: Portsmouth Clarence Pier to Southsea Pier. A year later in 1973, he joined the British Long Distance Swimming Association and competed in the majority of the BLDSA and affiliated club events for the next decade. He was undefeated in all the breaststroke events during that decade.

In 1974, Parsons was appointed as a Tutor for the Royal Life Saving Society and the Swimming Teachers Association. He had a dual role as a competitor and coach of the British Long Distance Swimming Team at the Hapoel Games held in Israel.

He developed the idea that a BLDSA Captain Webb Centennial Relay Championships across the English Channel, from France to England, should be held in 1975 in order to celebrate the centenary of Captain Webb’s first crossing across the English Channel in 1875 where 12 teams competed.

For the next three years leading up to 1977, Parsons served as a Swimming Coach and Administrator for the Royal Navy Amateur Swimming Association. Between 1975 and 1982, he competed in Belgium, Zeebrugge/Blankenberg, and the Damme-Brugge International.

1976 was a pivotal year for him when he married fellow British swimmer, organizer and administrator Val Taylor. Over the next decade, he continued to expand his role in the sport:

* he became a Life Member of the Solent Swimming Club
* he was elected as Assistant International Secretary and a member of the Executive Committee of the British Long Distance Swimming Association
* he was elected as a Life Member of the Royal Navy Amateur Swimming Association in 1977
* he became National Development Officer of the Swimming Teachers Association of Great Britain between 1977 and 1979
* he became the BLDSA representative at the Central Council of Physical Recreation Water Sports Committee between 1981 and 1987
* he created The Champion of Champions in 1982. The three events (1 mile + 3 miles + 5 miles) on the same day was designed to define which swimmer was better: the fastest swimmers or the ones with the best endurance. Together with his wife Val Parsons, they managed the event between 1982 and 1988 until they moved to Spain.
* he and Val started a 2-mile event in Sandwell as part of the Sandwell Sports Festival
* he and Val were jointly honored with the BLDSA James Brennan Award for their Outstanding Service to the Sport
* he organized the swimming leg (England to France) of the 1984 and 1985 London to Paris Triathlon competition in 1984 as well as sponsored and coached a 4-person BLDSA from Marble Arch London to Dover on the first day, swimming across the English Channel from England to France on the second day, and cycling from Cap Gris Nez to Rouen and onto Paris on the third day
* he became Vice Chairman of the C.C.P.R. Water Sports Committee and member of the C.C.P.R. Executive Committee in 1986
* he chaired the meeting between British Triathlon Association, the Amateur Swimming Association, Amateur Athletics Association and British Cycling Association that recognized triathlon as a separate sport
* he organized the swimming section of the 1st London, the 1st Welsh and the 1st Scottish Short Course Triathlons
* he became the senior swimming coach to the British Triathlon Association in 1986
* he became a Life Member of the British Long Distance Swimming Association
* he organized the swimming section of the 1987 European Short Course Triathlon at Milton Keynes, England
* he served as Temporary Secretary of the British Triathlon Association during 1987
* he was representative of the British Triathlon Association at the conference to form the European Triathlon Union in Amsterdam, Netherlands in 1987
* He received a special Long Service Recognition Award by the British Long Distance Swimming Association in 1989

His scope of work increased when he served as the Secretary of the FINA Long Distance Swimming Commission between 1986 and 1991. He also drafted the LEN Rules for Long Distance Swimming in 1987 as the request of Norman Sarsfield, LEN Secretary. Part of his tour of duty included attending the 25 km swimming championships at Stari Grad on the Island of Hvar in Yugoslavia in 1988. He later served as the Meet Director and Chief Referee at the 1st LEN Long Distance Swimming Championships at StariGrad, Hvar, Yugoslavia in 1989.

In 1990, Parson attended meetings of the FINA Long Distance Swimming Commission in Perth, Australia and officiated at a trial 25 km race. The race was a test of the proposed 1991 FINA World Championship 25 km course in the Swan River.

His wife recalls those visionary times. “At meetings in Naples, Italy, Roger put forward for consideration a proposal that if the International Long Distance Swimming Federation and the World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation were to amalgamate, then it may be possible to get FINA and the respective national governing bodies to agree to use their existing events as a World Series into which new national federation events could over time incorporate their own marathon events.

At meetings in Canada in August, it was agreed that a World Series was practical and could be put together using existing International Long Distance Swimming Federation events. Roger made a full report to the FINA with recommendation that a pilot World Series take place starting in the summer of 1991. Roger was the leading force in all of this, and was instrumental in bringing together all of the marathon swimming events, the promoters, and the national federations to get cooperation between each other, get a united agreement and a working plan for the World Series.

It was at this point that we decided that a successful Open Water World Series could open the door for the rapid inclusion of Long Distance Swimming into the Olympic program either under the FINA general program or as a stand-alone sport. After consultations with Dale Petranech, Dale agreed that this could also be a good way to accelerate open water swimming as a national activity too.

We saw a momentous possibility for the future good and development of the sport. In our desire to see this come to fruition, we financed all our travel costs to visit and share the vision and enthusiasm, attend meetings, assist and encourage each and every promoter and event, and to do whatever we could do, wherever it was, in the world.”

The timing and opportunity was right. “It was driven by a deep passion by people with a wealth of knowledge who did not care who got credit,” observed Steven Munatones. “Their efforts truly were for the swimmers, by the swimmers.”

Parsons attended meetings of the FINA Long Distance Swimming Commission in Perth, Australia during the 1991 FINA World Championships and served as an official at the 1st FINA World Championships. “At a seminar on Long Distance Swimming which took place in Perth, we offered to assist any national association to stage, organize or administrate for long distance swimming in their respective countries, without payment for their services,” recalled Val.

Trevor Tiffany, the Vice President Swim Canada, asked the Parsons to come to Canada and set up Long Distance Swimming in the Provinces as part of the Swim Canada program and also, on behalf of Swim Canada, to organize the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships 25 km open water race that was held in Edmonton, Alberta in August 1991. “Roger accepted the invitation to take on the post of Organizer for Swim Canada’s Open Water Swimming program. He organized the 25 km for the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships which were held at Sylvan Lake, Alberta. We volunteered at Swim Canada for a minimum of one year.”

The pair continued traveling to attend the other marathon events that were interested in discussing the possibilities of being part of a World Series competition. From Australia, they travelled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and attended meetings with the Brazilian Swimming Federation, then to Salvador, Argentina, and many more meetings.

Initially they moved to Ottawa in the Swim Canada national offices, but a month later, the committee of La Traversee International du Lac Memphremagog offered free office space from where Roger could do his work for Swim Canada and help form the International Marathon Swimming Federation that incorporated the International Long Distance Swimming Federation and the World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation.

Between 1991 and 1993, Parsons served as the General Secretary of the International Marathon Swimming Federation and attended every IMSF World Series event and set up, calculated and compiled World Rankings at the end of each event.

They were described as “two special people of absolute integrity who are devoted to the cause, who are incredibly hard working, and who can always be relied upon. They are totally independent, passionate in their endeavours to always fight for, and to do whatever they can that is only ever in the best interests of the swimmers, the promoters and the sport as a whole and who have no axes to grind either personally or politically.”

In Santa Fe, Argentina, the 1st General Meeting of the International Marathon Swimming Federation was held on 31st January 31st 1992. They travelled from their home base in Spain to run the IMSF and the World Series as well as the 4th FINA 25 km World Cup that was held in lac St-Jean, Canada.

Roger and Val were presented with a Special Recognition award by Swimming Natation Canada in recognition of their contribution to the development of the Open Water Swimming program in Canada and their efforts to organize the open water races at Pan Pacific Swimming Championships on behalf of Swim Canada.

Between 1993 and 1996, Parsons served as the General Secretary of the International Marathon Swimming Association and as Meet Director for every race on the FINA Marathon Swimming World Series. FINA becomes involved for the next World Series which was staged as the FINA Marathon Swimming World Series.

With IMSA President Pierre Otis, the Parsons created the official handbook for the International Marathon Swimming Association.

The message in the IMSA Marathon Swimming Handbook by President Pierre Otis stated, “I take the opportunity to thank the General Secretary, Mr. Roger Parsons and Valerie Parsons who have invested a lot of energy to realise this guide. Their contribution has been precious during these years of change. Their professional and personal investment in the IMSA stays indissociable with the growth of the Association and its credibility in the world.”

Val remembers those times in 1996. “With FINA fully involved in its World Open Water Swimming Championships and the World Series, the FINA Bureau agreed to apply to the IOC to include open water swimming as part of FINA’s Olympic Swimming Program. To our delight, this application was duly accepted in 2005.”

After over 20 years in the sport, dedicated to the race promoters and swimmers, they retired from their administrative work with the International Marathon Swimming Association because they felt that their initial objectives had been achieved.

Roger was honoured by the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame with a Coach and Honour Contributor Certificate of Merit in 1997, with the recognition “for their hard work, their enthusiasm, their devotion and integrity throughout the last twenty years, and for their tremendous contribution to the world development and the history of Open Water Swimming and for always being such wonderful ambassadors for the sport.”

In 2004, both Roger and Val Parsons were jointly honored by the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame with the Irving Davids-Captain Roger Wheeler Memorial Award. Roger was invited to become a member of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame selection committee in 2006.

Copyright © 2008-2017 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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