Irving Davids/Captain Roger W. Wheeler Memorial Award

2004  Roger and Valerie Parsons


The Parsons have been a marathon duo who has helped to organize the structure under which marathon swimming operates today.


After her retirement as one of England’s premier marathon swimmers, Valerie Parsons turned her efforts to the administration of the sport and eventually became the Honorary Chairman of the British Long Distance Swimming Association (BLDSA). In addition to her association duties, Val assisted with the conduct of the Lake Windermere International 25 Kilometer event held every four years. At the time, this was the most important international event on the amateur calendar.


Along the way she married Roger.


When FINA formed a commission to study the feasibility of adding open water events to their program, Roger was selected to represent Great Britain on the FINA Open Water Commission. He was largely responsible for adapting BLDSA and Channel Association rules into the first-ever FINA Open Water Swimming Rules.


When FINA relaxed its rules concerning professionalism, Roger and Val established a FINA World Series of Marathon Swimming. Using the old professional circuits as a guide, he combined several independently run professional races into a single cohesive body. As the FINA Open Water commitment grew, Roger was appointed to the Open Water Sub Committee of the Technical Swimming Committee and then to the Technical Open Water Swimming Committee.


The Parsons used their own personal resources and funds to bring the World Series of Marathon Swimming to fruition. One of the major problems Roger and Val faced was that most of the race organizers had never dealt with FINA or their own national aquatic sports governing bodies. Initially, race organizers had a very difficult time adhering to the required protocols, and Roger and Val explained the requirements of these bureaucracies. Meet managers greatly respected their efforts.


When Roger wanted to proceed at a pace faster than that of FINA he resigned and became the Executive Secretary of the International Marathon Swimming Association (IMSA). The Parsons made special effort to attend all of the estimated ten IMSA marathons in Europe, and South and North America. He continued to work closely with FINA and eventually FINA took over all the administrative functions of the IMSA.


With her expertise, Val was a very welcome part of the team. When you got Roger, you also got Val. At the many races and competitions, Val served as a race official, trainer/coach of a swimmer or in any other capacity where she could meet a need. The Parsons were not part of the history of Marathon Swimming in the late 1980s and 90s; they are the history of the sport during that period.

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