Parsons, however, declined the invitation. Even after winning a spot, he could not be persuaded to travel to events.
“I didn’t want anything to do with competition,” he said.
A turning point came in the fall of 2010, when he ran the Marine Corps Marathon, finishing in 3 hours 44 minutes. Preparing for the race got him in excellent shape. The grueling running cleared his head. It also gave him and Bixby some serious time together, as she, too, ran the race.
For years, his competitions had, by necessity, driven them apart. They simply could not afford for her to attend most events, so she almost always stayed home. On the rare occasions she did accompany him, they slept in their car, rather than staying in a hotel.
Bixby, however, weathered those challenges better than she did her husband’s aimlessness after Beijing. He didn’t know what he should do, but she did. And so she told him, again and again.
“I know a lot of young professionals, and they were all a little worried,” she said. They said, “He needs to support you. He needs to get a job. But I’m not sure a lot of people really realize what it’s like to have a dream like that. . . . It’s so pure, and I admire it so much. How can you tell somebody not to accomplish their dream? . . . That’s not even a question for me.”
Her unapologetic resolve helped her husband, finally, yank himself out of his funk and back into his kayak.
“What I’ve learned is to embrace it as an opportunity, instead of ‘Woe is me because my wife and I are living in a basement apartment,’ ” he said. “I just decided to do it. This is kind of who I am, what makes me happy. My wife is way too supportive, way too cool, to put up with this crap from me . . . I couldn’t ask for a better partner.”
‘I really want to win’
Suddenly fully committed, and feeling good again, Parsons began tangling with an old emotion: a sense of urgency. The Olympics, suddenly, were not so far away. The 2012 Olympic trials take place in Charlotte next April. He got back with his coach, Silvan Poberaj, and consulted with Brad DeWeese, a U.S. Olympic Committee sports physiologist. He realized he had his work cut out for him.
Parsons barely made it on to the U.S. team that traveled to the 2011 Canoe Slalom World Championships in September in Bratislava, Slovakia. He then finished in 15th place, a result that left him somewhere between disappointed and proud.
Though not good enough to send Parsons to the final, it allowed for one critical victory: He secured a spot in men’s single kayak for the Olympics next summer.
Having made sure that the spot is available, he now intends to win it.
“I’m enjoying each moment, but I also know the goal is to medal,” Parsons said. “There are plenty of reasons to do a sport and compete, other than just winning, but I really want to win right now. . . . Now, I think I understand why I want to win. Hopefully, I understand how to get there. We’ll see.”