Sports

Rowing club hires New Zealand coach

Richard Parr, who has coached and taught for the last 15 years in New Zealand, will be the new coach of the Vashon Island Rowing Club.  - Natalie Johnson/Staff Photo
Richard Parr, who has coached and taught for the last 15 years in New Zealand, will be the new coach of the Vashon Island Rowing Club.
— image credit: Natalie Johnson/Staff Photo

The Vashon Island Rowing Club, which has seen increased participation and success in recent years, has hired an accomplished international coach to head its youth and adult programs.

Richard Parr, who is the process of moving to Vashon from New Zealand, has more than 20 years of coaching at all levels under his belt. He has worked with the New Zealand, Canadian and Irish national teams and has even coached Olympic athletes.

Parr, who speaks cheerfully and with an accent he calls Canadian with a bit of Irish, said he recently decided to move to the Seattle area to be closer to his partner. Though the move will be a big one, he said he has felt a pull for change in his life.

Recent earthquakes that have devastated parts of New Zealand have affected him, Parr said, as did his father’s recent death.

“It forced me to have a good look at where I am and what I’m doing,” he said.

Parr is looking forward to what he says is the next adventure in his life. He's pleased to be closer to his partner, who will move to Vashon with him, to coach a promising team and — as an outdoors lover — to experience life in the Northwest. He added that Vashon Island is strikingly similar to New Zealand.

Parr hasn’t coached club rowing in about 20 years, but says Vashon has an impressive program that he’s excited to be a part of. Last year the junior crew sent a record number of rowers to nationals, where they took two medals, and one young rower made it all the way to the junior world championships.

“At a young age they seem to have some of that ‘we know how to work hard.’ In rowing that’s the key,” he said.

Parr said he was also impressed by the cadre of volunteers running the program.

“As someone who comes from a high-end, professional background, to see the Island club being managed so well was very appealing,” he said.

Parr, 49, was born in England, but moved to Canada at a young age. He was a coxswain for his Canadian college’s rowing team, and his subsequent coaching career has taken him around the world.

Parr was an apprentice with the Canadian Olympic rowing team in 1996 and went to the 2004 Olympics in Athens as the head of Ireland’s team.

He comes to Vashon from New Zealand's University of Otago, where he spent the past 15 years teaching coaching and exercise prescription and was a consultant to other coaches in the region.

VIRC, which formed more than 20 years ago, has gone through a few coaches in recent years. Sam Burns, who is credited with boosting the program, was with the club from 2009 to 2010. Steve Full, a well-loved coach who also had success with the team, left last summer after just one year on Vashon to take a position at Georgetown University. VIRC found an Islander who was able quickly to take his place, but the club chose to not renew his contract for the spring season.

VIRC performed an extensive search for a new coach, and Parr visited Vashon to work with rowers before they chose him to head the club.

“It was almost unanimous that Richard had the chops that we were looking for,” said Jeff Hoyt, a master rower who was on VIRC’s search committee.

Parr said he plans to one day return to high-level coaching, but hopes to stay on Vashon for at least five years. He will also work to complete his Ph.D. in sporting talent development while on the Island.

When asked how he felt about coaching a small-town club after having worked with national champions and Olympic athletes, Parr said he finds joy and challenge in coaching at every level.

“Good athletes are good athletes, whether they’re from Vashon Island or the Olympics,” he said. “The thrill of coaching really is seeing any individual enjoying themselves and achieving the goals they want to achieve.”

 

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