In honor of National Adoption Month, American Adoptions met with Aaron Parchem, pairs figure skater in the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy. Aaron was adopted as a baby and points to his adoption and his adoptive parents as reasons he was able to proudly represent his country in Torino.
How an Adoptive Couple’s American Dream Became an Adopted Child’s Olympic Dream
Every year in the United States, thousands of children are adopted domestically.
While these children vary in age, race and background, they all share one very important characteristic: By being adopted, they are provided with opportunities and experiences to which they otherwise may have never been introduced.
One of these children possessed an inherent talent that was awakened by his adoptive parents, taking him all the way to the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy.
In August 1977, a couple from a Chicago suburb, Al and Georga Parchem, always wanted to start a family but were having difficulties with infertility. Their journey to parenthood led them to adopting a baby boy, whom they named Aaron.
His adoption was never kept secret from him nor his adopted sister. After all, they were biracial, and their parents were white.
“It was never something that was hidden from me,” Aaron said. “I was an adopted kid. Even at 6 or 7 years old, it didn’t make a difference. What was always important to me was the love and attention I received from my parents.”
Georga was integral in introducing her son to various activities, ranging from flag football, to gymnastics and even to tap dancing. Aaron’s interest in these activities usually only lasted for one or two seasons, but there was one that stuck with him – figure skating.
“I would’ve never been in skating if it wasn’t for my mom, especially,” Aaron said. “She was so open to putting me in so many different things, allowing me to have all of these diverse experiences. I was hooked once I did my first ice show.”
Skating was a big part of Aaron’s life throughout his teenage years, and he relied heavily on his parents to help him continue his young skating career. Before he could drive, it was his parents who had to wake up early in the morning to take him to the skating rink before school, wait for him to finish practice, drive him to school, and then repeat the same routine in the afternoon.
The long hours of practicing kept Aaron and his parents busy; however, he never made it to national competition as a singles skater. Figure skating remained a hobby rather than a blossoming career.
Aaron graduated high school and then traveled south on I-65 to attend Butler University in Indianapolis.
“I spent two years at Butler with the intention of phasing out ice-skating and slowly getting into the real world. However, during my time there, there was a coach who got me interested in skating pairs. I caught the bug again and decided I wanted to really try to be my best at this so I made a major move to come to Detroit.”
The Detroit Skating Club is renowned for the number of figure skaters it has produced. Aaron Parchem would be its latest.
Aaron first paired up with Stephanie Kalesavich, and they qualified for Junior Nationals within their first eight months of skating together. By the next year, they won the event.
“It was great, but it also freaked me out because I never imagined things would happen so quickly,” Aaron said.
Things didn’t slow down after that, as he teamed up with new partner, Marcy Hinzmann in 2004. Aaron and Marcy received third place in the 2005 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, which would have qualified them as alternates for the Olympics in an Olympic year. Indeed, it was an achievement, but Aaron and Marcy wanted a guaranteed spot in Torino. With another year of experience and training together, they hoped it would be enough to reach their ultimate goal.
However, the unexpected happened during the 2005 season Marcy tore her ACL in her non-landing knee.
After having surgery on her knee, Marcy had a four-month recovery time before she could put skates on again, and six months before she and Aaron could get back to training together.
“We had five months to try our best to get ready to make one big push to get to the Olympics,” Aaron said. “Those were some of the best experiences and worst experiences in my life. Being so disappointed I couldn’t sleep and being so elated from a standing ovation two weeks later that to this day was the best moment in my skating career. We learned a lot in that six-month snippet of time, but ultimately it got us to be in a position to qualify for the Olympics.”
The 2006 U.S. Figure Skating Championships were held in St. Louis. After Aaron and Marcy’s first program, they sat in second place with one more performance to go. They would end up beating the third-place team by less than half of a point, promising them a spot on the U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Team.
During the opening ceremonies of the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Aaron proudly walked through the coliseum with Marcy and the rest of the U.S. Olympians. Amongst all the cheers, a familiar voice stood out from all the rest – his mom’s. Among the thousands and thousands of spectators, Georga and Al had made it all the way down to the front rows to see their son in one of his proudest moments. Aaron was even able to snap a picture of his parents.
By just being there in that moment, Aaron felt that he had already won.
“Coming into the Olympics, we knew we didn’t have a shot at a medal,” Aaron said. “The achievement for us was qualifying for the Olympics. The whole Olympic experience to Marcy, myself and our families was to just enjoy the celebration and to be part of something that was vastly bigger than ourselves.”
Aaron and Marcy ended up placing 13th. They had two good skates, which Aaron said he and Marcy will be proud of for the rest of their lives.
This was would be the unofficial end to his competitive skating career.
“Skating into your 20s and 30s is a difficult proposition. There is opportunity cost there, but to us it was worth it because we got to achieve and experience things that we would otherwise never have been able to do. I’ve been across the world in different countries and able to soak in different cultures. I’ve been able to compete against different people who I never would have otherwise met. To me the experience that we gained was worth the cost of sticking around and letting the rest of life slip by to a certain extent.”
The Best is Yet to Come
Figure skating provided Aaron with some amazing experiences, but undoubtedly the best thing it led to was meeting his wife Zuzanna, a former Olympian herself from Poland.
Zuzanna served as Aaron and Marcy’s choreographer and continues to coach at the Detroit Skating Club, where she and Aaron first met. They have a 2-year-old daughter together, Sofie, who has some big shoes, or skates, to fill.
“Being a father is the best thing that’s happened to me in my life. I think back to my experiences growing up and I’m glad that I can pass the love that has been given to me.
“We have hopes that our daughter excels in something, and whether that’s sports or school, I’ll be happy just to experience something new. If my baby girl wants to be a skater, we will wish her luck, but she will also have to understand that she has two very demanding parents,” Aaron jokes.
Aaron often thinks back to those long hours at the ice rink where his mom or dad would be waiting for him to take him to school, the moment when he told them he had qualified for the Olympics, and at the opening ceremonies where he could hear their cheers among the thousands of others.
“The support I received from my folks – emotionally, logistically, financially – none of this would have been possible, none of it, if it wasn’t for the support I got from them.”
So, the question remains: Would Aaron Parchem have been an Olympic figure skater if he wasn’t adopted? No one will ever know. But he knows one thing:
“Adoption changed my life. I don’t know if it was for the better or not, and that’s simply because this is the only life that I know. But what I can tell you, and what I truly believe, is that I’m lucky to be adopted. The opportunities that have been afforded to me, the love that has been given to me and the family I now have all stem from a decision that I couldn’t make – a decision I’m sure weighed heavily on my birth parents’ hearts. However, for my story, there was a happy ending.”
Written by Dustin Freund, Video by Matt White and Colin Mascal