2017 LSU Athletic Hall of Fame: Debbie Parris-Thymes
Editor's Note: NCAA champion and two-time Olympian Debbie Parris-Thymes is a member of the 2017 LSU Athletic Hall of Fame induction class and will be formally enshrined on Friday in the L'Auberge Baton Rouge Events Center. The other inductees are women's basketball player Joyce Walker, softball pitcher Kristin Schmidt, diver Alison Maisch, men's basketball player Collis Temple Jr. and pole vaulter Russ Buller.
Tickets are on sale now for the event, which begins with a cocktail reception featuring heavy hors d'ouerves from 6 p.m. until 7:30 p.m., followed by the induction ceremony at 7:45 p.m. Tickets for the event are available for $50 each. Tickets may be purchased by contacting Courtney Albritton of the Tiger Athletic Foundation at (225) 578-0159 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A chance lunch in Helsinki, Finland, with then second-year LSU head track and field coach Dennis Shaver would change the course of Debbie Parris-Thymes’ professional career forever.
Parris-Thymes had just written the final chapter in a storied career as one of the world’s leading 400-meter hurdlers while representing her native Jamaica in her sixth World Championships. And while she entered the twilight of her life as an athlete, she was ready for the dawning of her next step in the sport – as a coach.
“We sat down and had lunch and had a discussion about it,” Parris-Thymes recalled of her meeting with Shaver in the summer of 2005. “He told me what his thoughts were and what he wanted to do with the program. I always felt like so many of the really important people in my life who helped me along the way were coaches. So, the opportunity for me to come back (to LSU) and coach was right.
“I had the experience of having been a collegiate athlete competing here at LSU and being a part of the program’s success early on, and then moving on to be a professional athlete. I felt that I had so much that I could teach these younger athletes who were on a path to hopefully do some of the things that I had the opportunity to do.”
Parris-Thymes brought instant credibility as a coach while working with a new generation of student-athlete at LSU where she was part of four NCAA Championship teams in her two seasons in 1993 and 1994.
A native of Trelawny, Jamaica, Parris-Thymes was a five-time NCAA Champion, five-time SEC Champion and eight-time All-American on the track at LSU and capturing back-to-back national titles in her specialty event – the 400 hurdles – in both her junior and senior seasons. She showed her range by leading off LSU’s NCAA-title-winning 4x100-meter relay team both years while also adding a national title in the 4x400 relay in 1993.
While lining up in two Olympic Games, Parris-Thymes finished just off the podium in fourth place in the 400 hurdles at the Atlanta Games in 1996. She would later earn the title of World Champion in 2001 while running as part of Jamaica’s 4x400-meter relay along with three World finals in the hurdles.
“We were never concerned about whether or not we would win, it was how we were going to do it,” Parris-Thymes remembered. “We’d walk into any building and say, ‘OK, this is ours. We’re going to decorate it how we want to.’ That was kind of the mindset among the group.
“We always rallied around each other. If someone ever felt like they failed to do what was expected of them, there was always someone else who would step up and say, ‘We’ve got your back, we’ve got this.’ Each of us knew what it took to come together to overcome those challenges and make sure we were in the position to be at our best.”
Parris-Thymes knew to draw upon that winning mentality as she joined the coaching ranks as a member of Shaver’s staff at LSU ahead of the 2006 season.
Shaver built LSU’s next national championship team just four short years after being appointed the head coach with Parris-Thymes playing a vital role in the Lady Tigers’ return to the top. She was part of a fifth national championship team in 2008 when LSU’s women won the program’s 31st NCAA title in dramatic fashion to finish off another historic campaign.
But perhaps no team in recent memory reminds Parris-Thymes of those from the Decade of the Dynasty more than the 2012 Lady Tigers, led by Bowerman Award winner Kimberlyn Duncan and fellow NCAA Champion Cassandra Tate among a host of others.
“That was one of the teams that resembled those teams of the past where everybody knew their role within the team and recognized the expectation that was there for them to achieve. They reached and surpassed those expectations,” Parris-Thymes said. “They didn’t necessarily need us as coaches to motivate them. They found the motivation within themselves to rise to the occasion.
“One of the best memories of that team was winning the conference championship when the meet was held right here on our track. Nothing seemed to go wrong. They were really flawless with how they performed. That team was truly driven that year, and that’s what we were when I competed.”
Parris-Thymes can be proud of her contribution as a coach as she helped coach five Olympians, 21 NCAA Champions, 29 SEC Champions and 35 All-Americans through her 12th and final season on staff in 2017.
She will now add a new title to an already decorated 25-year association with the University with her enshrinement to the LSU Athletics Hall of Fame on Friday. Parris-Thymes is among two track and field greats to earn induction in LSU’s six-member Class of 2017 along with former NCAA pole vault champion Russ Buller.
“I really was very surprised by the phone call. I had no idea I was even nominated,” Parris-Thymes recalled of Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Joe Alleva delivering the news of her Hall of Fame induction. “It’s a truly humbling experience to be recognized in this way.
“I came through LSU during a time when we had great success. There were so many individuals on the teams I was a part of who were just amazingly gifted athletes. We knew we were talented, but it was the work ethic and how driven we were toward achieving our goals that any one of those team members I had could be right where I am now and would be so deserving of it. What we did together during those years probably won’t be seen again in our sport, and that’s something we’re very proud of.”