Rory Parrish played baseball for the Special Olympics along with other sports.
Parrish was a long time resident of Lake Stevens.
In the winter, you’d find him pulling down a rebound or honing his baseline jump shot. During spring time, he was in the pool, cutting through water with his trade-marked breast stroke. In the summer, he’d be camped under fly balls or practicing his swing. The Special Olympian was a man for all seasons.
For 28 years Rory Parrish tackled athletics and life with a zeal that made him a fixture in the Lake Stevens and Special Olympics community. And then, suddenly, he was gone.
Lake Stevens lost a special part of its community last week when Rory Parrish passed away Feb. 26. He was 40 years old.
Friend and neighbor Chris Pratt remembers hitching a ride with his neighbor and hearing stories of an underground car-racing ring. Was he a member? Why not? Nothing was impossible for Parrish.
“Rory was always generous with his car and would volunteer to drive my friends and I around. I’ll never forget the tall tales he would share with us along the way. Many of the stories revolved around an illegal underground car racing ring that he claimed to be in,” Pratt said with a chuckle. “If I remember correctly, the race in which he won his first car included a lap around the lake and concluded with a spectacular jump through the field goal posts at the high school football field. His stories were awesome. His generosity and attitude was awesome. He was awesome, and I know he will be greatly missed.”
Over the past quarter century Parrish might be best known for his affiliation with the Lake Stevens Special Olympics program.
Even more impressive than his dedication to the athletics he loved are the examples he set. Through the years, Parrish has proved that he embodies everything Special Olympics stands for: hard work, dedication, determination, compassion, selflessness, good attitude, and a whole lot of fun. He’s been a shining star and is a big reason for the program’s growth and success.
Athletes and parents would ask him about Special Olympics. He served as the local ambassador for the program; he told them how much he loved Special Olympics. He would greet them at the door of that first practice, personally introduce them to team members and coaches, and would even show them how to warm up and execute basic skills.
Together with nine other athletes and the program founder Judy Byron, Parrish was part of the inaugural Special Olympics team which competed in the 1982 track and field season. Six of the original ten still participate with the program. Christy Byron, Michelle Knight, Kevin Dunlap, Scott Hayford, Andrea Ryan and Parrish have all participated for an impressive 28 years.
In his life, Parrish also proved to be an ultimate competitor.
In the summer of 1987, he swam his way to the International Special Olympics Summer Games in South Bend, Ind. where he competed on the University of Notre Dame campus and medaled in two swimming events. He took home the gold in the 25-meter breaststroke and a bronze on a 25-meter relay team.
Current Olympics director Patty Studdard truly understands Parrish’s impact. She has coached and supported him for over 20 years, but will quickly admit that he was really the one who supported her.
He regularly helped transport athletes to and from every event. He would help set up and put away all the equipment. He would help coaching staff communicate and demonstrate concepts and skills to the younger athletes.
“Rory was a great role model and a huge help to me and the other athletes,” explained Studdard. “He really leaves behind a big hole that will be very difficult to fill.”
In recent years Parrish also attained a personal goal of becoming a certified Special Olympics coach.
Although he won’t physically coach the Vikings’ hoops squad, the team has decided to play future seasons in his honor by stitching his initials into their uniforms permanently.
Parrish was respected and admired by teammates and coaching staff not only for his actions on the courts and fields of Special Olympics, but for successes within the community-at-large.
Countless folks were welcomed and helped by Parrish over the years while he worked at the local Safeway.
During the holidays he also did as much volunteer work as he could for the Special Olympics’ gift wrapping station at the local Rite Aid.
For the past nine years, Parrish and friends Drew Carlton and Kevin Dunlap worked for the Lake Stevens Kiwanis Club as night guards, protecting the infamous grounds of the Beer Garden at the annual Aquafest Festival.
“I’m going to miss all the fun we had together. He did a lot for all his friends and was a great person to spend time with,” Carlton said.
Parrish leaves behind a legacy of friendships, devotion, service and a true love for his community. He also leaves us as the most decorated Special Olympian in Lake Stevens’ history.
But maybe the most valuable thing he leaves behind is his spirit which this community will need to carry on. Parrish has left a bit of himself with each of us whose lives he’s touched. And in true Olympic fashion it’s our responsibility to pass this spirit on and keep his flame alive.
A Memorial Service for Parrish will be held this Friday, March 19 at 7 p.m. at Sanctuary Ministries located at 15533 75th St. NE in Lake Stevens.