Les Parsons was hired as cross-country ski coach for the Camrose Ski Club and Augustana Vikings in the fall of 2013: he worked in this position for one year and has been a volunteer coach the past two years. We had no idea what kind of impact he would have on campus in such a short time: on Thursday, April 7, he received the Augustana Alumni Citation Award.
“Les was identified as a worthy recipient of this award, which recognizes the contributions of a non-alumnus,” explains Dean Allen Berger, “because of his leadership role with students. He takes an informal but important work as an advisor and mentor, involves himself extensively with athletics and outdoor education, and has committed to the Camrose community through organizations such as Camrose Ski Club. His contagious energy and optimism infuse life and hope into the lives of just about every person he touches.”
Parsons brought a wealth of experience to share with Nordic athletes in Camrose. He began competing in cross-country skiing at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. For 15 years, he coached the Vermilion Nordic and Lakeland College Ski Teams. Four of his Vermilion athletes developed into national team athletes in cross-country skiing, biathlon, cross-country running and track & field. Parsons was the club coach of 2002 Olympic Gold Medalist Beckie Scott from Vermilion.
“I was just a volunteer,” says Les, “I never intended to coach professionally. Some mother convinced me to coach and said she would provide food for me. I was a bachelor and thought it was a good deal.”
He then coached in Quebec City for seven years, with continued success as the club coach of 2011 World Champion Gold Medalist Alex Harvey. For another four years, Parsons coached in Edmonton, producing yet another Youth Olympian Matt Saurette.
However, Parsons measures his success not by medal wins but by the impact he has in his role as a coach. He contributes to the development of young athletes, helps them to become good people and leaders in our society.
Parson’s mentor when he first started coaching was Garry Gibson, who was his professor in the Camrose Lutheran College Outdoor Leadership Program back in 1982. Gibson shared his coaching philosophy which has stuck to this day: “We are not coaching cross-country skiing: we are coaching people who cross-country ski.” Anyone can coach a sport… the challenge is coaching young people.
In 2014, the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) celebrated its fiftieth anniversary by establishing a Hall of Fame for the thousands of athletes, coaches and builders who have participated in the ACAC. Fifty people were selected to be honoured at the inaugural event, and Les Parsons was inducted.
“Les has had a transformational impact on the Camrose Ski Club and community of Camrose that go far beyond his duties as a coach,” says Morten Asfeldt, associate professor of physical education. “He has endless energy and is able to make skiing and training enjoyable for both beginners and seasoned skiers alike. He is selfless with his time often holding 3 or 4 separate training sessions a day to accommodate the complicated schedules of parents, children, university students, and seniors.
“Most impressive is his coaching philosophy,” he continues. “He coaches “people first” and “skiers second”. What this means is that coaching skiing, running or triathlon is first about empowering the people and second about helping them to increase their athletic performance. In the end, coaching for Les is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. The end for Les is to use athletics as a means to empower people to live healthy lifestyles, to see beyond their own self-imposed limitations, and to inspire people to serve others in order to create a more humane and caring world. Les is forever looking out for the less fortunate and finding a way for them to ski, run or do triathlon by finding equipment for them (often at his own cost and never asking for anything in return), providing transportation, offering extra coaching sessions, or accessing money or fundraising to meet a need. For example, to help save money for the Augustana ski team, he sometimes slept in the van at ski races or found a friend’s floor to sleep on rather than take a hotel room as the athletes did. Les is a man who makes an immediate and lasting impact on people. He has an energy that is contagious and a spirit and optimism that infuses life and hope into other people’s lives. He is the living example of service to others before self.”
Sam Kohlmann, Augustana Students’ Association VP Student Life
“On my first day on campus, all of the first years were seated in the chapel listening to different speakers,” says Sam. “When I heard the name “Les Parsons” a smile formed on my face. I had heard many stories of his energy and adventures but I had not met him yet. When he came out on stage, I instantly got what they had been talking about. His presence and energy was so high that he disregarded the microphone and addressed us without it. He instantly captured the students’ attention and led us in a Vikings cheer. His intense energy never ends and burns deep within him.
“As a student leader at Augustana,” he continues, “Les has supported me. When I come up with ideas to create spirit on campus, I look to him for suggestions. When our council was low, he came in to cheer us up. He understands the power of youth, and invests in us as his way to improve the world. I look up to him as a mentor and I know he looks up to my generation and I as hope for the future.”