If you search YouTube for the award-winning ESPN video about Richie Parker, you’ll notice the attention-grabbing title “(Must See) Richie Parker (Guy With No Arms) of Hendrick Motorsports.”
Not only does that point out the obvious, it doesn’t tell the full story.
Better to listen to Parker speak. The abundant qualities he has show through.
Parker came onto ESPN’s radar several years ago because his story is so unique. Born without arms, he now drives a modified car to work every day at a modified workstation in Charlotte as an automotive engineer at Hendrick.
If you’re going to work in pharmaceutical sales, you want Pfizer.
If you’ve trained as a royal guard, you want the Buckingham Palace assignment.
If you’re an automotive engineer, Hendrick Motorsports is arguably the most elite workplace you can find.
Parker’s success hasn’t occurred by accident, and much of it can be traced back to Beaufort.
“I love the history and the people of Beaufort,” he said. “In addition to my parents, I have what I call my ‘Beaufort Family,’ people I can call on if I need something.”
Despite his perceived limitations, he doesn’t seem to need much. His parents, Tracy and Lottie, gave him plenty of love and basic necessities, often through the prism of innovation a person without arms requires. The three of them worked throughout Richie’s childhood to ensure he had all the same opportunities all children have.
When Parker reached high school, his interest in engineering led him to Mike Allen’s classroom.
“I was initially worried about him being at an unfair disadvantage compared to the other students,” said Allen. “But I found out he could type faster with his toes than most people can with their hands.”
Allen also found that Parker’s “unique ways of participating” became an inspiration to him.
Parker was equally inspired by Allen, whom he credits with giving him the exposure to engineering that he didn’t grow up around.
“Battery Creek was my foundation,” said Parker. “The diversity of the students, the experiences in class…it all positioned me to move forward.”
For Parker, moving forward included heading to Clemson after graduation. The campus there, amid rolling hills and steep climbs to classrooms, is a daunting traverse for those with all four limbs. But no quarter was given and no excuses made, and the foundation laid in high school and continued in college found its final, firm footing at Hendrick.
Parker gets back to Beaufort every now and then, and on a recent visit spoke to Battery Creek students in the packed auditorium of his old stamping grounds. The gist of Parker’s speech was about not giving in to excuses and taking advantages of the opportunities given to you.
That advice found a rapt audience. When someone who’s on a similar path has made it without the use of things you take for granted speaks, you tend to listen.
When a driver like Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhardt, Jr., needs to make an adjustment to his car to win a race, he looks for Richie Parker.
If life itself is a race, Parker is winning by making constant adjustments to his own equipment, something that takes no one who knew him in Beaufort by surprise. His course, hopefully, will take him back to Beaufort as the finish line nears.
“I don’t get back as often as I should, but I plan to live here again after I retire,” said Parker.
It’s a return many of us look forward to.
Ryan Copeland is a Beaufort native. He can be reached at email@example.com.