Canadian beach volleyball world champions Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan have finally reunited after spending most of the year 2020 in hiatus due to COVID-19. The only time they played together was at the 2020 California Cup, where they finished third.
And now being back together seems like a breeze.
"This makes me so happy. First week of training complete and happy to be reunited with the team. Feels so good," Humana-Paredes posted on her Instagram in early January.
Pavan also chimed in in her own Instagram account: "It feels so good to be back on the sand with the team as we take on Olympic Pre season Part 2, week 1 is in the books."
Before reuniting in 2021, Humana-Paredes had no access to beach volleyball. All throughout the lockdown in Canada, she had to train by herself prepping for when she was able to meet Pavan on the sand once again.
"[I am] have really good routine and training really, really hard in the gym. And this is the time to do that. Like this is the time for both Sarah and I to really put on strength and muscle and power so that when we reunite and we get back on the sand, things start clicking like this," she told Tokyo 2020 in December last year.
Despite many months of competition downtime, Humana-Paredes says that Pavan and herself are keeping each other motivated.
"We have so much drive within both of us. We know individually what we need to work on and we know our role on the team. We also have a lot of accountability. And so a lot of the time when I'm thinking of training or improving myself and improving my game, I'm also thinking about Sarah as well."
Olympics in the family and her Chilean roots
Humanas-Paredes is confident that she will be able to make a powerful comeback with Pavan come Games-time.
"My priority right now is making sure that I'm in the best shape possible the best physique, and just put myself in the absolute strongest position come the New Year. "
"I feel like it's kind of like riding a bike, even though I've gone so long without playing it, I know when I get back and I'll be able to get back into it really quickly. And the skills, they never really leave you."
If it beach volleyball looks all too easy for Humanas-Paredes, it's all because she has been born into it.
Her father, Hernan Humana, was a Chilean expatriate who played for the national team and coached Canadian beach volleyball bronze medallists John Child and Mark Heese during the Atlanta 1996 Games. With a role model like that, it was just a matter of time before she would catch the sport bug.
"I was four years old at the time. And I remember being very young and watching the Olympic dream unfold for my dad and for his team. And I would see him travel the world and track him as he was going on his Olympic journey and that Olympic dream has been instilled in me at a very young age."
"I think from a young age, I knew I wanted to go to the Olympics. I wanted to be there. I wanted to become an Olympian. I wanted to experience the Olympics."
Whilst her father instilled the love for the sport and the Olympics, Humana-Paredes had another role model, her mother, who was a ballet dancer from Chile.
"I did not inherit anything from her in terms of her grace or being able to follow choreography. I did not get that gene. But she instilled a lot of other things in me like strength. She also lived through some really hard times in Chile. And she was still able to pursue her passion and still be able to dance and in a way like be able to control what she could control and still follow her dream."
With her parents as role models, the Canadian athlete says she is also grateful for being raised with her Chilean roots intact whilst growing up in Canada.
"I'm so proud to be Canadian. I'm also so proud to be Chilean. I feel very grateful to have both experiences and to be able to grow up in a country like Canada that is so multicultural and so diverse and accepting of different cultures."
"I don't think I'd be able to be here [as an athlete] if it wasn't for Canada to be able to provide these resources for my family and for me in turn. So, like in my heart, I'm truly I'm Canadian, I'm Chilean, and I think both cultures I'm so proud to be. I need to work on my Spanish but I do love both of these countries very much."
Teaming up with Sarah
Humana-Paredes knew from the very beginning that beach volleyball was her calling.
"I knew deep down that my heart was in beach volleyball and also [that] my skill set was better suited for the beach volleyball game. I'm not a super big girl, I'm not super tall. I'm not super powerful [but] I have really good ball control and I have a good IQ for the game. And I can read the game really well. So I just knew that my calling and my future is beach volleyball."
She paired up with Taylor Pischke from 2012 but in 2016, Humanas-Paredes struck a partnership with Pavan when she played as part of the training team for the Pavan's beach volleyball team for Rio 2016. In a way, it was Humana-Paredes first taste of the Olympics.
"I really got to see everything that goes on to help prepare me for the time that I would go to the Olympics and I thought that was an invaluable experience for me. But I also got to see how Sarah worked, how she functioned as a person and as an athlete. And I got to kind of get a little bit closer to her and I saw that we really connected well. And I think it's a true testament to our partnership, to our personalities and to our relationship."
Playing together since 2016, Humana-Paredes and Pavan had been on a medal haul ever since.
In 2019, the team reached their highest victory ever by winning the Beach Volleyball World Championships - Canada's first ever medal in this event.
"How big that tournament was and what it meant for us, and then that tournament just kind of started our streak for the summer of 2019, we ended up winning a couple more tournaments after that. And it was such a grueling time of our season and it was just such an amazing time of our careers to be able to fight through all of that and come out and still play really strong."
Humana-Paredes said that win was specially important for what's about to come in Tokyo 2020.
"I think it showed us a lot about our strength and our resilience, and I think it prepared us the best way possible for the Olympics being able to go through both the world championships and still come out on top. It's the best kind of preparation you could have made."
Tokyo 2020 - her first Olympics
Humana-Paredes is also grateful for the Olympics to finally happen after being postponed for a year.
"I think the Olympic Games represent so much. It represents unity, it represents community, it represents diversity. And it's a celebration of not just humanity, but sports and hard work and sacrifice. I think it's a culmination of everything. And I think it's really precious and it's really fragile because it only happens once every four years. And it's this like this accumulation of everything that you've done leading up to the Olympics. It's finally coming to fruition."
Even though she had been indirectly involved in the Rio Olympics, Tokyo 2020 will technically be Humana-Paredes' first appearance as an Olympic athlete.
"I'm really grateful to have had the experience that I did in Rio because I got to really soak in the Olympic vibes and the energy of the Olympic Games and and prepare myself for it. But this will be the first time playing and that's a that's a whole other experience. So I'm very prepared for that and I'm very excited."
Now with Pavan as her partner, Humana-Paredes' goal had switched from just wanting to participate in the Olympics to now winning a medal.
"We're preparing to produce an Olympic gold medal performance. I think that's the only thing that we can really do what's in our control, is just to be as prepared as possible to produce an Olympic gold medal, standard performance."
"I'd say within the last few years since partnering with Sarah, that's changed to now wanting to win the Olympics. And I think those are two very different experiences and different goals. And I think they're very realistic for for my team and for Sarah and I."
Aside from that, she also hopes that Tokyo 2020 will contribute further to the growth of beach volleyball as a sport.
"I could be biased [but] it's the most popular sports at the Olympic Games. I think it's so important for our sport to grow. I think, you know, people really get to see the beauty behind the sport because it's on TV and it's got all the eyes watching."
"I think we still have room to grow. I think we still have fans out there that haven't quite witnessed the beauty of it. And so the Olympic Games is so important for our sport to be able to develop and to inspire young kids and to inspire a generation to participate, to get involved, to be active and to be able to see the sport."
With Humana-Paredes and Pavan now back on the sand, the Canadian duo intends to regain their top form all the way to the Olympics.