At 6 years old, as he sat in a canoe on the calm lake at Olander Park, Scott Parsons could barely lift his paddle but he was determined to mimic his big brother's every move.
Scott vividly recalls the summer of 1985, rising early to paddle with his father William and brother Brian at the park in Sylvania.
"As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be like my big brother," Scott said. "My brother is 10 years older than me. I was about 5 when he got into kayaking, so I wanted to race a kayak too."
Fast-forward 27 years and Brian Parsons now looks up to his little brother, a three-time Olympian.
Scott, a St. John's Jesuit graduate, has again reached the pinnacle of his sport.
He will represent his country for the third time in the Summer Olympics. He has achieved the ultimate honor in kayak slalom and is the No. 1- ranked U.S. competitor.
"We used to put him in our laps in the boat and paddle around and we'd let Scotty try to hold the paddle up," said Brian, who also became an elite kayaker. "He was 6 at the time. He would make little boats out of sticks and put action figures in them and float them. He really loved it then and he still loves it now. ... I couldn't be more proud of him."
In 2004, Scott qualified for the Olympics in kayak slalom for the first time. He just missed appearing on the podium, finishing sixth at the Games in Athens. In 2008, Scott became a favorite to medal. But he slipped to 20th when he was penalized for missing a gate on the whitewater course in Beijing.
Now at 33, Scott is a veteran Olympian who is able to fully appreciate what it all means.
He became emotional when asked about representing his country.
"It's hard to describe that in a couple words," Scott said. "It's very cool to be a part of something that is so much bigger than yourself."
Scott said he gets chills when he recalls marching alongside the best athletes in the world in the Opening Ceremonies.
"To walk into the stadium as part of Team USA and walking side by side with legends that you've seen on TV winning medals is very cool," Scott said. "To be on the same team as them is an honor. I have a lot of pride to be there representing the U.S."
Brian Parsons, who competed in the Olympic Trials in 1992 before a broken collar bone ended his career, later became a coach for the U.S. team and attended the Games with Scott in 2004.
"When he and I walked into the stadium with the letters U.S.A. on our backs, it was one of the proudest moments of my life," Brian said. "We've always been close. I carried him home from the hospital. I got to name him. And then you've gotten to a place where you're representing the greatest country in the world. It's just an amazing feeling."
Nine members of the Parsons clan will be going to London.
Scott's event, the whitewater men's K-1 competition begins July 29. The finals will take place on Aug. 1 at 3:15 p.m.
The goal in the whitewater event is to negotiate a 300-meter course consisting of 18 to 25 gates in the shortest amount of time, with time added for penalties. Boats go one at a time and race against the clock.
Scott said all of his Olympic experiences have been very different.
"That is what makes each one exciting," he said.
He has gone from a green rookie, to a favorite, to lurking under the radar as a veteran. Scott earned a spot this time by finishing first at the Olympic trials in Charlotte in April.
"I want to race as well as I think I'm capable of, and I want to soak up every minute of it," he said.
Source of inspiration
Scott has followed in Brian's footsteps all along the way. Just as his brother did, Scott moved to Bethesda, Md., shortly after graduating from St. John's to train at a world- class whitewater facility.
"Kayaking was something my family did together," said Scott, who still lives in Maryland. "It all started when I was young, and I'm comfortable around it. It feels like a natural part of who I am."
The Parsons were living in Sylvania when the patriarch spotted a flyer promoting the sport at the YMCA in downtown Toledo. William Parsons, who is retired from Owens Corning, brought the flyer home on a whim.
The siblings decided to give kayaking a try and first took lessons at a local YMCA in the middle of winter. They later joined the Toledo River Gang, a club formed in the late 1970s that still exists today.
But what cemented Parsons' passion for paddling was his first experience watching a kayak slalom race in South Bend, Ind. A new man-made whitewater course was built there, and the family went to see a race in 1985.
"My brother and I were instantly hooked," Scott said.
The family started traveling to South Bend every weekend.
"It got to the point where they gave my dad a key to the course," Brian said. "He would open the floodgates to fill the course with whitewater, and we'd go with our his friends."
While attending Highland Elementary and then McCord Junior High, Scott played many sports but canoeing and kayaking struck a cord.
"I remember waking up early and kayaking at Olander," he said.
Another favorite spot was 10 Mile Creek in Sylvania Township.
"We'd hang some gates," Parsons said. "When the Maumee was high enough we'd surf some waves there.
"I had a great childhood. I loved it. I played all the sports. That was all very instrumental in me getting into kayaking."
Years later Brian was watching coverage of the Jamie Farr golf tournament on TV when he was stunned to hear his brother and 10 Mile Creek both mentioned.
"In 2008, just before the Olympics I was watching the Farr and the announcers started talking about the creek that runs through the course at Highland Meadows and they said, 'That's the creek where Olympian Scott Parsons grew up and trained on.' I couldn't believe it," Brian said.
Torch is passed
Scott was just 14 when he beat his older brother for the first time.
"When he beat me people started giving me a hard time because I got beat by a 14-year-old," Brian said. "But I felt great about it because it meant he had a great race. Even when he was 12 and 13, you could tell he just had it. He was a natural. There was never an awkward moment when he was on the water."
Brian Parsons competed for the U.S. national team and was prepared to earn a spot in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
"I was paddling really well and I was likely going to make the Olympic team," Brian said. "Right before the competition I slipped down some stairs and broke my collarbone. I was in a sling and couldn't compete. After that my heart wasn't in it anymore."
At the same Olympic trials, Scott was 13 and competed in a demonstration run.
"He went down the race course to show the competitors how to do the course," Brian said. "I think that was when I really knew he was going to be good. Right then I told my uncle that Scotty would go to at least two Olympics."
Then in 1994 Scotty won the junior trials in men's kayak and men's canoe at 14.
"That had never been done before," Brian said. "I loved the competition but he loves kayaking. That is what has been the foundation of his success. Every day he can't wait to get on the water."
Passion for paddling
Scott, who admits he considered retiring from kayaking after each of the last two Olympic Games, said the unique nature of the sport keeps him motivated.
"It's just fun," he said. "One of the more cool things is that it's an Olympic sport but at the same time if you just want to go out on a lake, a river, or the ocean you can row recreational and get plenty of enjoyment."
Scott also found his soul mate through the sport. His wife, Lauren, also is an accomplished kayaker and a former member of the U.S. junior national team.
"We share that together," Scott said. "We both love it. But it's not always fun. You have to be prepared to deal with the pain."
Brian said it's an individual sport that requires incredible self-motivation to reach the highest levels.
"There is no money in the sport," Brian said. "He gets a small stipend from the U.S. Olympic committee. There is very little incentive, quite frankly, other than your love of the sport. There is not a team dynamic. You aren't obligated to teammates and coaches. If you don't wake up in the morning to practice, you don't go. And to me that is the most impressive part of his journey.
"It is a 12 hour a day job. It is really hard. [Lauren] is incredibly supportive and is the person that got him reinvigorated [after the 2008 Olympics]."
Scott attributes his dedication to his competitive nature.
"What I like is the workouts that are painful and difficult because I can test myself and see what I'm capable of," Scott said. "I like to see how much pain I can handle. When it comes to racing I like it because it's a test. How much pressure can I take and still perform?"
Scott said a year and a half ago he started working with a trainer who has designed a program for the Olympic kayakers. It involves race simulation, running, and weight training.
"There's a little more specificity that has helped me a lot," Scott said. "It's really important to have a solid core. Rowing includes the legs a lot. Whitewater is a full-body sport."
Scott said he had the chance to paddle the course in London last October and it is similar to the course in Beijing. He said it should take 90 to 105 seconds to complete.
"It's big whitewater," he said. "No course is the same and you don't know what the gate configuration will be. Right now I'm trying to stay sharp and quick."
He believes a key will be to keep his nerves in check.
"You can analyze too much between runs," he said.
Scott also believes his Olympic experience should help.
"At this point in my career, I've been around the block a few times, and I know how to prepare for the Olympics," he said.
Scott said his goal is to finish his run with a time he feels good about. He said he'll go as fast as he can and not worry about the competition.
"I just want to stay focused," he said. "It sounds corny but I just want to set myself up to have the best result I'm capable of. If I do I think I have a good chance."
Contact Mark Monroe at: email@example.com, 419-724-6354, or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.