Stettler product Barb Clark Parolin was among nine Albertans, and the only female, inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in this year’s ceremony Friday at Red Deer.
Clark Parolin, 53, said her passion for swimming began during her childhood in Stettler.
The Hall of Fame honours the inductees’ impact on sport in their province, country and around the world.
Clark Parolin brought home an Olympic bronze medal from the 1976 Olympics in Montreal in the 4X100-metre freestyle swimming relay. It was just one of her world titles and achievements in a long swimming career that began in the heartland of Alberta.
“Stettler is home in my heart,” said Clark Parolin, who has been a teacher in Leduc for the past 32 years. Her father, Earl Clark, was the principal at the high school in Stettler for eight and a half years, until the family left the community in 1978.
Her provincial Hall of Fame induction was a long time coming.
“It was a proud moment,” said Clark Parolin’s mother, Pat Clark. “We were so pleased. It (the Olympic medal win) happened so long ago, we thought everybody forgot.”
“Everybody assumes achievements such as this automatically qualify you (for induction), but you have to be nominated,” said Clark Parolin, who was thrilled at being inducted into the provincial Sports Hall of Fame and happy to be in the company of the other inductees, many of whom had careers in sports extending back as many years as Clark Parolin’s.
In her acceptance speech in front of more than 500 people at the Red Deer Sheraton, Clark Parolin applauded her Stettler roots. She was introduced and inducted as Barb Clark from Stettler.
“I was so lucky to have lived in Stettler, where you felt the support of the community behind you at all times,” Clark Parolin said.
“I also felt lucky to be in Stettler, because the leaders of the day had the foresight to build an indoor pool of official size at that time.
“I couldn’t have been more fortunate to have a coach as skilled, talented and committed as Larry Nielsen.”
Clark Parolin’s parents, now retired and living in Lacombe, were among her family members attending the induction ceremony.
“Barb had such drive,” said Earl Clark, attributing that quality as a factor in her success.
“You couldn’t find a better town to raise a family, than Stettler.
“Stettler was the first to do a lot of things and it had something for everyone — music programs, sports programs, and good businesspeople — everything you wanted. It is a ‘yes we can’ town. We can’t say enough about Stettler.”
Joan Nielsen of Vancouver Island, widow of coach Larry Nielsen, and Coun. Darcy Bachman and Coun. Malcolm Fischer, representing the Town of Stettler, were also in attendance at Friday’s induction.
Clark Parolin didn’t swim prior to coming to Stettler at age 11. The family had lived in smaller communities that didn’t have swimming pools.
At that time, the physical education program at the school in Stettler included swimming lessons for grades 1 to 12, with Larry Nielsen as the instructor.
“I couldn’t swim, and the first time I jumped in, I went right to the bottom,” Clark Parolin said.
It didn’t take Nielsen long to see the potential in Clark Parolin, and he wanted her on the swim team he coached. Within six months, Clark Parolin was breaking Alberta records.
“Larry was an amazing coach; he was ahead of his time with his training techniques,” said Clark Parolin, attributing her eventual success to him.
Clark Parolin, who has a competitive nature, found swimming especially motivating. She pushed her limits to qualify and advance to competitions throughout the province and beyond, eventually to national and international events.
She dedicated herself only to swimming and was committed to the swim team practices, which were 11 times a week for two hours each.
The Stettler pool purchased a pacer, which was underwater lights used in training that taught swimmers to pace themselves. They swam the same speed as the lights blinked.
Clark Parolin said that method was “a tremendous help.” She also said Nielsen had them swim with their jeans on, over their swim suits, to add extra drag to build strength and endurance. When they took the jeans off for the last laps, “it seemed like a breeze.”
There were no weights for weight training, so Nielsen made weights by filling tin cans with cement.
Although the practices might have seemed gruelling to some, Clark Parolin found them varied and fun, with something different every time.
Leading up to the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Clark Parolin said she took all her swimming in Stettler, except for the last six months. She was 17 when she won the Olympic bronze medal. She swam competitively until 1985.
Clark Parolin credited having wide feet as an advantage, giving her more push, like flippers.
“A wide foot is terrible for buying shoes, though,” she laughed.
Clark Parolin’s passion for swimming has not wavered. She plans to retire from teaching in a couple of years, and then will have the time to devote to training to prepare herself for future competition in the Masters Olympics.
The Masters has competitions in age brackets from 25 to 90. Perhaps the last has not been heard of Stettler’s swimming sweetheart.
LES STULBERG, Independent reporter