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Relighting the fire within: Shannon Bahrke, Derek Parra get the U.S. off to a strong start on this day in 2002

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 8 2012 9:36 p.m. MST

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of stories that will look back on some of the highlights of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games, and the athletes who provided them.

SALT LAKE CITY — She was a constantly-grinning 21-year-old who'd barely made the U.S. Olympic team after battling a near-fatal illness.

He was a father-to-be who worked at Home Depot to support his family while chasing his Olympic dream.

Maybe the only thing mogul skier Shannon "Sparky" Bahrke and speedskater Derek Parra had in common was that they'd both sacrificed everything they had to represent the United States in the 2002 Olympic Games.

And then, on the first day of competition, Feb. 9, both won silver medals, starting what would be a record-setting performance by U.S. athletes in a Winter Olympic Games.

Today, 10 years later, both Bahrke and Parra live and work in Utah. Bahrke's first thoughts about the 10-year anniversary of the Salt Lake Games are disbelief.

"I can't believe it's been 10 years ago," said Bahrke, who is now a three-time Olympian and double medalist (silver, 2010), wife to Matt Happe, and owner of her own Utah business, Silver Bean Coffee. "That's the first thing I think."

She laughs, and then she turns serious.

"I think it was such a turning point in my life," she said. "Achieving something like that is just incredible. To happen at 21 years old, it catapulted me not only as a skier, but me as a person. You gain so much confidence. That was really the beginning of my journey, who I was as a person and who I was as a skier."

After more than a decade in her sport, she feels both of her Olympic medals have helped her feel accomplished but not defined.

"I would like to think I'm a good enough person without the medal that it just adds to my life," said Bahrke. "I'd like to think it doesn't complete me."

Both Bahrke and Parra spend time giving back to the sports that blessed their lives, especially Parra.

The speedskater who won both a gold and a silver medal in 2002 now teaches the development program at the Utah Olympic Oval where he claimed his fame.

Thinking back on it at a recent press conference, Parra found himself overcome with emotion.

"I still cry," he said. "My heart still races when I show the video of me skating. … It was magic."

He now offers to others the kind of teaching and support that helped him move from inline skating to being an Olympic champion in speedskating.

"People say you never get to the top alone," he said. "I'm proof."

email: adonaldson@desnews.com

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