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Sign of the Day - PRESERVE

Living Loud: Terence Parkin - Olympian

Deaf Culture   |  Wednesday, August 17, 2016

By Marta Belsky

This article is by Marta Belsky. Marta is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 20 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users.

Terence Parkin, nicknamed the “Silent Torpedo,” has been called the Michael Phelps of the Deaflympics.1 He has competed for South Africa in Olympic and Deaflympic Games, World Cup and Pan American Competitions. Parkin is the Deaflympics’ most successful athlete since its inception in 1929; holding the record of the most medals - 34 in total. He has participated in 5 Deaflympics, in which he won 29 gold, 3 silver, and 1 bronze medals, plus South Africa won the bronze when he competed in the 2005 Deaflympics in Melbourne.2 He also earned an Olympic Medal for the 200m breaststroke in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.3

Terence Parkin was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe on April 12, 1980. He was born deaf, but his parents, Neville and Bev didn’t realize he was deaf and it was not confirmed by doctors until he was 18 months old. His father Neville said, "We were both young when he was born and, being our first kid, we weren't really sure. His baby talk was normal, he laughed, he smiled - he was like a normal kid." There was a lack of educational options and support system for deaf children in Zimbabwe at that time, so the Parkins decided to move to Durban, South Africa when Terence was three years old. Another literal bump in the road for Parkin occurred when he was in a car accent as a child. He preserved and his scar and shaved head became one of his trademarks in swimming competitions.6

Parkin at the pool
Parkin at the pool. (Photo Credit: Terence Parkin / Son Koerant Twitter)

He loved water and began swimming at age 12. He said, "I just love swimming, I enjoy it so much. I actually enjoy the feeling of getting tired from swimming.”6 But it was hard work and dedication that propelled Parkin to success. His coach, Graham Hill said, "I saw a kid who really wanted to get into swimming, but wasn't quite up to the standard of the other kids his age. He had more enthusiasm than the other kids. but just wasn't there. We used to laugh about it, we still do laugh about it. Terence was really slow when he came.”6

It was at the Midmar Mile held in South Africa, the world’s largest open water swimming event, that he first made his mark. “Starting in the second batch of swimmers in the 13-and-under age group, behind all the seeds, he powered through the field and, when the times had been adjusted, he had taken a stunning victory. It was astounding, but Parkin has been doing astounding things all his life.”7

Parkin was dedicated to training and would spend hours everyday swimming, cycling, and running. He said, “Success is 90% attitude and 10% training….with the right attitude you can do anything.  The worst disability is (bad) attitude!”1

Just getting warmed up.

In 1997, at age 17, Parkin competed in his first Deaflympics in Copenhagen, and won seven medals: five gold and two silver.

Parkin's Olympic Silver Medal for the 200m Breaststroke
Parkin's 2000 Olympic Silver Medal for the 200m Breaststroke (Photo Credit: Terence Parkin / Graham Hill News Twitter)

In 2000, Parkin completed in his first Olympic games at the age of 20 in Sydney. He said "I am going to the Olympics to represent South Africa, but it's so vitally important for me to go, to show that the deaf can do anything. They can't hear, they can see everything. I would like to show the world that there's opportunities for the deaf.”5 He was the only deaf swimmer in the Games and claimed a silver medal in the 200m breaststroke.3 After he finished the race, unable to hear stadium commentators announcing the results, Parkin looked to the scoreboard, where he saw a “2” next to his name and thought that was just his lane number. He was ecstatic a few moments later when he realized the "2" meant he had gotten second place and won the Olympic silver medal.9

People often wonder how Parkin can hear the sound that signals the start of the race. The “signal” to start races has changed over time, from a gun being shot in the air, to a very loud buzzer, to a buzzer and a strobe light. Parkin watches for the strobe light, but before strobe lights were used his couch would signal to him or use a light like a camera flash.6 In footage of Parkin’s races at the Sydney games, it appears the FINA referee holds his hand out, giving the visual signal for “set.”8

Parkin Swimming
Parkin swimming (Photo Credit: Aquatic Sports History of South Africa)

Terence tried to use hearing aids during a race once, but the crowd noise was distracting. "I can concentrate, I can focus on what I'm doing. I don't have to listen to the discussion or negative talk around me, So I'm able to focus. I don't have to worry about what other people say.”6 He hopes to inspire deaf athletes, as well as athletes from smaller countries, and show that with hard work you can be successful and you can win Olympic medals.4 5

In 2001, at the Rome Deaflympics, Parkin claimed five more golds – the 100m and 200m freestyle, the 100m and 200m breaststroke, and the 400m individual medley.

Parkin won the Midmar Mile in 2000 and 2002 - the world's largest open water swimming event and the race where he first felt a taste of success when he participated in the 13-and-under age group.

And the medal count climbs.

Parkin with many medals
Parkin with many Deaflympic medals. (Photo Credit: Aquatic Sports History of South Africa)

At the 2005 Deaflympics in Melbourne, Parkin became the most successful competitor in the history of the Games, winning an incredible 12 gold medals and one silver.

In the freestyle, he won the 100m and 400m in Games record times and captured the 200m and 1500m with world records.

He won the 50m breaststroke with a world record time, and also claimed the 100m and 200m breaststroke titles.

To this he added the 200m butterfly, with another world record, as well as the 200m and 400m individual medley. Parkin was also part of another two world records, in the 4x100m medley relay and the 4x200m freestyle relay. His silver came in the 4x100m freestyle relay.

Parkin cycling
Parkin cycling. (Photo Credit: Aquatic Sports History of South Africa)

Additionally, his 13 medals help South Africa to win bronze in the overall medal count at the 2005 Deaflympics, with a total of 19 metals.

At the 2009 Deaflympics in Taipei, Parkin was back on the winner’s podium with 7 gold medals for the 50m, 100m, and 200m breaststroke, the 200m and 400m individual medley, and the 200m and 1500m freestyle.

Oh, and he also won a cycling bronze in the 93-kilometer road race! It wasn’t his first race; in 2005, he won gold at the World Deaf Cycling Championships in the 120km road race and picked up silver in the mountain bike event.

Legacy of a Champion

Parkin South African Stamp
Parkin's 2001 South African Stamp cycling. (Photo Credit: Colnect)

Parkin has become an icon. He has won over 400 gold medals, 200 silver medals, and 50 bronze medals through various competitions, and continues to hold Deaf World Records.1 He has participated in 2 Olympics, 5 Deaflympics, 2 Commonwealth Games, 1 Goodwill Games, FINA World Championships, FINA Swimming World Cups, Pan Pacific Championships, Africa Games, South Africa National Championships, and 24 Midmar Miles. He had a South African stamp issued in his honor in 2001. He has also been named an ambassador of the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation. He has received many awards including World Deaf Sportsman of the Year (1997, 2000, 2001, 2005), CISS Sportsman of the Century (2000), SA Schools Sportsman of the Year (2002), and Gold Presidential Awards (2000, 2001, 2002).1 Additionally, in 2011 Parkin saved a 7 year old boy from drowning after he got his arm stuck in a swimming pool vent at a Johannesburg gym.10

Today Parkin lives in Johannesburg, South Africa with his wife and two children. He coaches sports at the St. Vincent School for the Deaf.11


  1. Ambassadors & Advisors: Terence Parkin. Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation. Retrieved 8/12/2016 from
  2. Terence Parkin. Deaflympics. Retrieved 8/12/2016 from
  3. Terence Parkin. Olympics. Retrieved 8/12/2016 from
  4. Griffin, Stan. Olympic Silver to Deaf South African Swimmer. Deaf Friends International. Retrieved 8/12/2016 from
  5. Terence Parkin. Wikipedia. Retrieved 8/12/2016 from
  6. (2000, March 12). Terence Parkin - The silent success. SABC Carte Blanche. Retrieved 8/12/2016 from
  7. (2013, July 12). Parkin: Deaflympics legend continues South African. Retrieved 8/12/2016 from
  8. Flaherty, Bryan (2012, April 19). USA Swimming will allow hand signals to accommodate deaf athletes at Olympic trials. The Washington Post. Retrieved 8/12/2016 from
  9. Cloete, Rob (2011, November 1). The Hard of Hearing Hero. The South African. Retrieved 8/12/2016 from
  10. (2011, January 21). Olympic swimmer saves boy. Sport24. Retrieved 8/12/2016 from
  11. romanSA (2005, April). Celebrating Terence Parkin, a South African sporting hero and icon. SkyScraperCity. Retrieved 8/12/2016 from
  12. Terence Parkin. Twitter. Retrieved 8/12/2016 from


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About the Author

Marta Belsky Marta Belsky is a third generation ASL user. She has been teaching ASL for 20 years and enjoys sharing her native language with new users. Marta is on the Lansing Community College Interpreter Training Program Advisory Board and has also been a board member for the Michigan Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and the Michigan Chapter of American Sign Language Teachers Association.

More about Marta  |  Articles by Marta

Interpreter Q & A: Asking Questions vs. Being Nosey

Interpreter Q & A: Asking Questions vs. Being Nosey

Interpreter Tips   |  Thursday, July 21, 2016

By Brenda Cartwright

This article is by Brenda Cartwright. Brenda is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, and well known presenter. Brenda is the "Dear Abby" for the interpreting world - author of the Dear Reality column in the VIEWS publication from Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and the book Encounters With Reality: 1001 Interpreter Scenarios. She will be contributing blog articles for Signing Savvy on interpreting, Deaf culture, and answering a series of "Dear BC" interpreter questions.

Dear BC,

In an educational setting, a student asked me to accompany her to interpret a conversation with one of her teachers. On the way to the teacher’s classroom, I asked “What did you need to see the teacher for?” The deaf student responded, “It’s none of your business, you are the interpreter and you will do what I tell you to do!” Needless to say, I was shocked at this answer.

I always try to prepare myself and avoid misunderstandings. For example, before going into a doctor’s office, I ask the client why they’re there, to prepare myself as well as to get a feel for the client’s signing style, etc. I’m not being nosey and I feel this response was very curt and rude. Is this how we are viewed?

Not trying to be nosey

An Experienced Interpreter's Perspective:

I think there are a number of issues at play. First, there is your question and reasoning behind it. I applaud your rationale. You were trying to be prepared for the event and to try and gauge the Deaf person’s sign style/preference. That’s great! However, I wouldn’t have asked why the student wanted to see the teacher. It may be misconstrued as fishing for information.

If this was a first-time assignment, I think the most I might ask would be, “What does the teacher teach?” That way, the subject being taught would prime my brain for certain terms and/or grammatical aspects of ASL/English.

If you’re trying to measure a young student’s signing preference, you could ask about another less threatening topic. One question I use is “What is your favorite game?” Lots of times, young kids will answer by talking about their favorite video game. They’re more relaxed and it helps me find a good starting point for matching their preferences.

The second issue is the Deaf student’s response. Remember that she’s young and part of being a student is learning how to be a savvy yet polite consumer. If this educational setting is your full-time position, you should talk with the student as soon as you can after the interpreting event. Be honest but not authoritative. Remember, diplomacy can be your best friend. You might want to tell her that it always helps the interpreter to have something to start with, both content and communication preferences, so that you can be ready to interpret. This way the student might volunteer necessary information next time without an interpreter having to ask.

Experienced Deaf Consumer's Perspective:

That sounds familiar to me. I have seen and heard this reaction from students. I believe the student is learning how to utilize an interpreter. Some students will use too much power without common sense. Often, deaf students are told that interpreters do not have the right to be nosey about their personal lives, but at the same time they do not understand how the Code of Ethics really works for them. This student probably didn’t even think ahead about the fact that the interpreter is going to find out what the topic will be in a few moments anyway. They just don’t know why you are asking those kinds of questions.

After the initial meeting – not right away, but later on – you should have a nice comfortable talk with the student about why you ask those kinds of questions. Explaining this would be beneficial. Some students need help learning how to utilize interpreters and what to expect later in the deaf community. Eventually, the student can decide whether the interpreter’s questions are appropriate prior to situations. This student is still learning.

What's your perspective? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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About the Author

Brenda CartwrightBrenda Cartwright is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, well known presenter, and author of several best selling sign language and interpreting textbooks from the RID Press. For the last 30 years Brenda has been the Chair of the Sign Language Interpreter Program at Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan.

More about Brenda  |  Articles by Brenda

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