Have you had Olympics Fever this summer? We’ve been glued to NBC, watching events and interactions. Did you catch the drama between swimmers Michael Phelps and Chad LeClos? Phelps slumped in a chair, hoodie over his head, staring straight ahead while his South African rival, who beat him 4 years ago, danced around, trying to unnerve him. Didn’t work. Phelps prevailed.
And how glorious is Simone Biles???
So, Olympics groupie that I am, imagine my recent surprise when the young banker across the desk from me turned out to have been an Olympics athlete—with a story worth publishing in this column! I’d stopped by our neighborhood Comerica (Northwestern and 13) and spoken to Yolanda Serra, branch manager. She connected me with Aaron Parchem, senior financial manager. As your Chatty Kathy, I told Aaron how long I’d been a Comerica customer. That would be over 50 years. (Considerably over, but who’s counting?)
Digression. My father’s blue-print business, Multi Color Co., was based a few blocks from the Fisher Building. (In what was once Miss Newman’s School for Girls on Delaware, should one of my grandchildren read this years hence.) Dad had banked at the Detroit Bank &Trust (now Comerica) Fisher Building branch for years. He took me there to open my first savings account. I met Mr. Fisher, the manager. (No relation to the brothers who started GM and for whom the building was named, but still heroic to me.) The branch had polished brass bars fronting tellers’ cages and marble columns and inlaid floors. It was a showstopper.
As a young teen, I file-clerked part time in Dad’s office. Dad drove me to the Fisher Building, paycheck in hand, to deposit my earnings. I treasured the little book in which a teller penned in and initialed every deposit, no matter how puny. It fostered my sense of fiscal responsibility. (Don’t you think it a shame such savings accounts no longer exist?)
Back to Aaron. Born in Columbus, OH. His unmarried biracial parents gave him up for adoption. “They were young,” he says. “Society was different.” A white couple, Georga and Al Parchem, adopted and raised him. From the start, he knew he looked different from his parents and was adopted. The Parchems introduced their son to many after-school activities. “Skating stuck.” When he tried pair skating, he was hooked.
Aaron loved competing. He and partner Stephanie Kalesavich won the Junior U.S. Championships in 1999. They placed in several international competitions in the next couple of years. He and Marcy Hinzmann placed in still more, leading to a silver in the Nationals and a slot at the 2006 Winter Olympics. About their 13th place finish in Torino, he says, “I was just happy to be there.”
Meanwhile, Aaron had graduated from the University of Detroit Mercy, cum laude, with an economics degree. Still, he spent the next 3 years coaching pair skating at the renowned Detroit Skating Club where he had trained. It was time for a change. “I spent most of my 20s in the rink,” he says. “In my 30s, I looked for a new challenge. I put my brain to use.” He became licensed to sell securities and got his Certified Financial Planner designation.
“As a competitive athlete, I had a team behind me—parents, sponsor, trainers, coaches. All I had to do was not screw things up. Those experiences helped shape me. Now my life is more about giving than taking. I get to help others in my job and my family.” (Aaron married his choreographer, Polish single skater Zuzanna Szwed, in 2004. They have a 4-year old daughter, Sofie.)
At 26, Aaron sought out his biological parents. They were still together. He met his little brother, raised by their biological parents. “It wasn’t like in the movies. There was no musical soundtrack. The sun didn’t break through the clouds. But it was great to meet them and start a relationship. I’m just grateful for the life I’ve led and the blessings I’ve had. And for adoptive parents who’ve been so good to me.”
I asked Aaron how, being biracial, others treated him. I loved his response. “Life is what you choose to make of it,” he said. “I choose to see the positive things. I want the world to be a better place for having me in it.“
Watching the Rio Olympics reminds him of the excitement he felt on walking into the stadium in Torino and hearing his mother cheering. And of how appreciative the audience was. “Competition reveals character and encourages growth. I remember how lucky I am to have had those experiences.”
Thanks, Aaron, for sharing your story. I’m sad to see these Olympics end, but happy to have made a new Olympian friend.