She has a place in Red Deer’s sports history as the first athlete from our community to represent Canada at an Olympic Games.
Marcia Parsons Beckner started her speed skating career at age 11 when her figure skating coach recommended she change skates and sports.
Eight years later she was wearing the maple leaf and racing in Grenoble France in 1968.
“It’s in my blood, it’s something that doesn’t go away,” she said about the sport she fell in love with when she saw the straightaway on the speed skating oval in Red Deer for the first time.
Her Olympic experience is chronicled in a scrapbook, chalk full of memories and momentos as a 19-year-old skater.
“As an Olympic experience, as an Olympian, you’re never a former Olympian, you are an Olympian. It’s in you forever.”
The luck of the draw had her skating three of four times against the current world champion which was a real treat for her and although there weren’t the large crowds on hand to cheer the skaters on she says the entire time over in France was absolutely fabulous.
“To be standing on the ice with these hot skaters was thrilling,” she said.
While she is very proud of her athletic accomplishment Parsons-Beckner says at the time of her career it wasn’t as difficult to rise to the top because the small numbers of speed skaters around.
She says Red Deer was a hotbed for the sport with the national championships held in our City in 1964 and of the 16 possible national champions that year, eight hailed from the Red Deer club.
That club was coached by Bruno Comis who is a member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame.
The very active 64-year-old is now a coach herself, instructing young speed skaters in Salmon Arm, B.C. as well as giving talks to students during Olympic years about her experience.
Her 19th place finish in the 1,000 m race always comes up when students ask how she did and some are disappointed she didn’t bring home a medal, she said.
“So there’s a collective sigh and then invariably one little kid will say, that’s not bad for the whole world.”
Parsons-Beckner said she was proud to be a member of a team which included another famous Red Deerian, Kevin Sirois, who was an alternate that year.
She trained with him for years and was saddened when she heard he was killed while riding a bike.
“Shortly after that we had our first son and his name is Kevin,” she said.
Along with the memories of Grenoble she has in her possession an official Olympic flag which was smuggled out of the athletes’ village by a cousin who had come to watch her skate.
“So in the middle of the night he shinnied up one of the flag poles, got the flag, sequestered it in his coat, took it back, mailed it to me in Red Deer and when I got back it was there.”
She is currently being honoured as one of our hometown heroes with a display at the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame, a building she would love to be a resident of at some point.
“Oh absolutely,” she said. “I mean to be in the sport hall of fame with Kevin Sirois, it would be wonderful to be a member here.”
It would be the perfect place for another of Red Deer’s accomplished athletes.