This week’s show will feature engaging conversation with motivational speaker Richie Parker, focusing on his compelling and inspirational life. His story was captured in one of the most motivational ESPN videos of all time. It shows the many challenges and inspiration of an American hero.
Born without arms, Richie is a top engineer for NASCAR and now a graduate student who speaks to millions through his courageous actions every day. Richie shares his perspective on motivational leadership while loving life and living it in all he does, during today’s program.
Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I have to say today is going to be an exciting show for me in particular, because I have been a respectful admirer of Richie Parker now for some time. I first came across his ESPN video several years ago. As you know Relly, having worked alongside of me with Special Forces and in the business community, I use Richie’s ESPN video on his courageous life to talk about our Fearless Leader 4-Quadrant Model which is:
ACT with inspiring courage,
RESPOND with resilience,
THINK with a higher consciousness, and
ENGAGE with a mindset for success.
I cannot think of anybody more inspiring than Richie, especially with our special forces guys who are trained to go beyond what we would call the average working warrior as an elite warrior. I think of Richie as an elite warrior who is going to teach us a lot about ourselves, our boundaries, how we can overcome them and the challenges all of us face day-to-day.
Richie has certainly been one of my, I’ll just be honest about it, hero’s. I came across Richie by sheer accident, looking for exciting and different motivational speakers. Parker works as a body and chassis component designer for the NASCAR Sprint Truck Series team of Hendrick Motorsports. Engineers, as you know, are highly trained technicians. Well Richie, as an engineer, uses his feet to design vehicle components and incorporate adjustments based on feedback from the organization’s crew chiefs and their drivers.
In South Carolina, where he is a native, he believes in taking responsibility for real life and career, and never giving up until you reach your goals. Richie had a very unique non-genetic birth defect in which his limbs were not formed which is called Bilateral Amelia.
His parents were loving, inspiring, and blessed human beings to have Richie in their lives. They just would not give up. They did everything that they could that was in their power to make his life as normal, if we can use the word normal for anybody these days, as possible.
Richie has been profiled by ESPN and by many others. He is one of those inspiring people who will just overcome any obstacle. I will tell you this: I met Richie in person over the phone through a Special Forces friend of mine by the name of Cody Nicks, who works at Hendrick Motorsports. I was thrilled when I got through to Richie a few months ago and have just become very enamored with his sweet voice. He’s a very kind person.
Parker has been honored by the National Inclusion Project as a champion of Inclusion Recipients. He is growing his responsibilities at Hendricks Motor Sports and he’s also now a graduate student. When he called me this week to talk about the show, he was in the car, driving 8 hours, and he was on the phone with me and all I could think of was, oh my gosh, I’ve got to get Richie off the phone so he gets home safely.
So Richie Parker, bless you, and thank you for being on our show today.
Richie Parker: Thanks for having me.
Dr. Relly Nadler: So Richie, we always talk about what people influenced you. I saw the video and I’m sure it’s probably your folks. Maybe talk a little bit about who have been the main influences for you from your family and maybe there are others in the business world.
Richie Parker: I’d say the main influence for me growing up would be my parents. They just, for one, raised me to be myself and not really think of myself as being different than anybody else. I tell people a lot of times that I didn’t really know that I had a disability until I would leave the house or leave my family environment and then go to a store or go to some other setting and that’s when other people would make mention of it or make it an issue.
Growing up with my parents it was just my normal. I’m thankful that they raised me that way. They raised me with a strong foundation to understand that God doesn’t make mistakes, and God is in charge of my life, and so that helps me as I go through life and understanding certain situations and dealing with certain situations understanding that you are going to have challenges along the way, but you can get through those things. Part of those challenges are there to make you stronger.
I would say they were my biggest influence. I’ve had many family members and friends along the way and teachers that have helped me every step of the way, so just a lot of people that have helped me become the person that I am today.
Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Richie, I would love for you to talk about how you got to Hendrick. I think that’s a very unique story as well before we get into the main part of the interview.
Richie Parker: I went to school at Clemson University for Mechanical Engineering and I was about to graduate from Clemson, this is back in 2005, and like a lot of students I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do at that time. I was applying for different jobs. I think one job was going to be at a plant where I would be a shop floor engineer. The other opportunity was to do weapons projectile testing on a Naval base. I wasn’t too excited about either of those options, but they were pretty much full time job opportunities.
I had a friend that was a fan of NASCAR, a few friends in college that were NASCAR fans, and they mentioned that as an opportunity. I was always interested in the automotive industry but couldn’t see myself living in Michigan. I grew up in South Carolina my whole life; I just had no desire to move North. But this was an opportunity that was still in the Southeast. So I looked into a couple of job opportunities and I found one internship that I applied for and it just so happened that that internship was with Hendrick Motorsports. I was selected for that internship, but it was a 10 week internship. So, at that point, I’m thinking well, I’ll be out of college and this is only 10 weeks, so I need to have a plan after that.
My plan was I was going to go on the internship at Hendrick Motorsports for 10 weeks and then I would go into law school. So that was my plan. I purchased the study material and made plans to move to Charlotte just for 10 weeks. I did the internship and they asked me to stay on for two more weeks, and I got a fulltime job offer, and that was back in 2005 and I’m still there today.
So my law school plans got put on hold and this became a good start to a career for me.
Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Now I’m very excited about this because when we were talking the other day, in addition to going back to school, you said that your responsibilities have been increasing. Can you talk a little bit about that? Are you free to discuss that?
Richie Parker: It’s just here recently I was put in a new role where I’m able to lead a group of our design engineers. So it’s a new challenge, as a lot of the other things I have going on right now, but I enjoy it. I like leading. I hope that I can contribute and be even more of an asset here at the company than I was before.
Dr. Relly Nadler: Before we get to some of our other questions, how did ESPN and I guess it was through NASCAR, find you and then it kind of opened up your story to millions of people?
Richie Parker: I would say the first seven years of my career here, I would get requests to do interviews or things like this, like the ESPN video. I avoided those things for the longest time. For one, I like to contribute, I like to be an asset, but I like to do things behind the scenes. A lot of people don’t realize how many people are involved here at Hendrick Motorsports that make our cars successful. Right now we have about 600 people as part of just the racing side of our team.
So it’s a lot of people that are involved. I don’t like to be the one that is singled out when I know so many other people are contributing. For seven years I would get those requests and I would say no. It got to the point where in 2013 we received a few more requests and so we talked about it and some of the folks here at Hendrick Motorsports had a relationship with some of the producers at ESPN that were interested in doing something as well.
So I went back and talked to some family and I talked to some friends. I had two goals: one was that I knew that if I shared some of my life it would be inspirational to some people. To me, in my life and in a lot of ways it’s kind of boring, to be honest with you, but I know when other people look at my life it’s not that way.
So that was one goal. The other goal, frankly to be honest with you, was that I was hoping that if I did the feature with ESPN that some of the other requests would die down and folks would leave me alone.
That backfired on me. I agreed to do it and that didn’t work out as planned. But, things worked out for the good, for the good of God, and that is what happened in this case. I think a lot of people were motivated by the video and inspired by it. It takes me out of my comfort zone a little bit, like I said, because I like to be behind the scenes and do things in that way. But I think it helped some other people. So many messages I received indicated that was the case, so it worked out to the good.
Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Well one of the things that has worked out for the good, I can tell you, is when I share your video with our military folks who are always looking for motivation and inspiration, especially on those tough days when they realize that they are putting themselves at risk and may not be able to be with their loved ones on the holidays; they always get a boost from hearing about you and what you do.
How do others motivate you, Richie? What is it that you look for?
Richie Parker: I try to look at examples for other people. My dad, I don’t mean for this to sound negative at all, but my dad was always telling me that you can learn things from people in a positive way, but you can also take just as many life lessons from people that do things in a negative way as well.
I just try to be observant at all times. Looking at examples in life and try to take bits and pieces away from everything that I have observed. But as far as my true motivation, I try to make sure that it’s internal as much as possible. Because a lot of times we are in situations and it’s only you and God, so you don’t really have someone else to lean on. When there are times and you can look at someone else and someone else motivates you, then I look at that as just a blessing; icing on the cake. But as far as how I get through my daily life I try to make sure that it’s about my personal goals and my personal motivation. I try to make sure that I’m not satisfied as I go along my daily routine and that’s what pushes me.
Dr. Relly Nadler: You didn’t feel like you had any kind of a disability until you left the house and then you are in the work world. How do you deal with others who are probably more awestruck by what who you are and what you are doing than you are? You seem like a very humble kind of person. So when you first meet people, I imagine they probably feel uncomfortable to some level. How do you deal with that? Do you pick that up and are you able to have your story that puts them at ease? How do you deal with the people around you?
Richie Parker: I’m aware of it when I meet people but I’ll be honest, I try to make that less of an issue than making it an issue. So I’ll try to move the conversation or the situation we are dealing with on to what is important, which is if it’s in the workplace; whatever the issue is or whatever the job is at hand, it’s not about my physical disability or someone else’s physical ability. I think one thing as I get the opportunity to go out and speak to people and speak to groups is that I try to get people to understand that we are all dealing with some sort of challenge. People can look at me and they can look on the surface and see that some of my challenges are physical in nature, but I can stand in front of a group of 100’s of people and know that everyone in that room is dealing with something.
It might be medical issues, it might a physical disability, it could be depression which we see in our society today that so many people are dealing with. A lot of times it’s not easy to see those things.
But we are all dealing with something and I try to get people to understand that whatever your situation is, I believe God gave that to you and it’s an opportunity. I have a former boss that used to whenever we had a situation or issue at work, he would say; he guys, we have an opportunity to solve that problem. To me, when you have issues in life, it’s an opportunity to make you stronger.
I would say the times that I feel like I have grown the most as a person professionally, or personally, would be times when my back was against the wall. When things weren’t really going well at the moment. I think just understanding that and understanding those trials in life, those tribulations in life are going to come; understanding that and processing that the right way helps you to deal with it and helps you to get through that situation and move on to the next challenge.
You can listen to the entire inspirational interview, above.