Team Canada’s Melissa Humana-Paredes on her Carbon-Neutral Journey to the Paris Olympics

Chilean-Canadian beach volleyball champion Melissa Humana-Paredes is less than a month away from competing in the Olympics Games 2024, hosted in Paris, France. Born and raised in Toronto, Humana-Paredes began her beach volleyball journey at age 11, she quickly fell in love with the sport and by the time she was 15, represented Canada in the Under-19 World Championships in Turkey. During her time at York University, she competed on the York Lions volleyball team where she was awarded Female Athlete of the Year in 2012 while majoring in Communications. Her first brush with the Olympics was in Rio in 2016 where she represented Team Canada as a training partner who is on standby if an athlete cannot compete, she was not called onto the sand but instead set her sights on an Olympic dream of her own.

The Paris Games will be Humana-Paredes‘s second time at the Olympics, following her fifth-place finish at the Tokyo 2022 Games with former partner Sarah Pavan. This time around, she is determined to not only take home the gold but to also make her journey to Paris carbon-neutral, since joining the eco-athletes team who are using their voices to speak up about climate change and eco-friendly practices in sport.

Ahead, we caught up with Melissa to talk about pre-game rituals, her favourite spots in Toronto and how her parents’ journey to Canada has inspired her athletic journey.

S: Being from Toronto, where is your go-to first stop in the city once you are home from travelling? 

MHP: “Without a doubt, if I have 24 hrs at home, you’ll find me strolling along Roncesvalles. I predominantly grew up in the West End, near High Park & Roncesvalles so that area has a special place in my heart. I’ve seen the transformation of the Roncesvalles community and it is one of my favourite places to visit after long stints of travel. Roncy is packed with local businesses and I love supporting local businesses! They have great restaurants and there’s always a new one to try, some of my faves: are Barque, The Goods, Sunnyside Provisions, Pizzeria Defina, Gold Standard, Mabel’s, AM Bagel. There are also so many adorable boutiques, some favourites: Scout, Avenue Daughter, 313 Design, Frock, Good Neighbour, and Imelda.”

Do you have any good luck charms or pre-game rituals you like to do before competing? 

“I have pendants I wear on my necklace that I rotate between, mostly down from my mom. Those are my lucky charms. My pre-game rituals include a full sunscreen routine (it’s quite meditative), securing my hair in a braid, and getting my uniform on while vibing out to some good music.”

Being part of the eco-athletes team how do you plan to prioritize having a carbon-neutral trip to Paris this summer?

“At the beginning of my Olympic qualification process, I committed to offsetting all my travel-related expenses on the journey to Paris 2024. I’ve partnered with a few different organizations to help me do so. We track all my flights, and the distances travelled to calculate the emissions associated with each flight. The funds from that go towards vetted climate projects doing incredible work.

“I also don’t own a car, I bike nearly every day to and from practice, and I eat at least one plant-based meal every day which is easier than you think! I stay conscious of reducing single-use items and constantly looking for ways to create longevity in anything before tossing them.”

“I’m pushing myself to learn more every day and looking to apply to a postgraduate program at the School of Environment & Sustainability in Victoria, BC. I’m using my voice and platform to bring awareness to climate action, especially within the sporting world. I know it’s the bare minimum and I’m not perfect, but I’m doing the best I can with what I have at the moment.”

How has your parent’s journey to Canada through bravery and resilience fueled your athletic journey? 

“They have given this journey, and my life, so much more meaning. My family’s sacrifices and hardships have afforded me incredible opportunities, primarily being born in Canada but also providing access to sports (namely beach volleyball). My parents started a new life with very little and they made something from it. On hard days, I think of them and my problems seem trivial in comparison. I feel so grateful that I get to live my life to the fullest. They gave me a chance to dream by leaving behind a life they knew.”

What was your first experience playing volleyball? And what made you fall in love with it? 

“I was a toddler when I was exposed to the sport, so it’s kinda always been around me. It’s a tight-knit community so being at the beach felt very familiar and warm to me. My first experience playing internationally, representing Canada went horribly. We didn’t make it out of our pool, I basically finished last. That could have halted my journey, but it made me work harder. I love the challenge, the routine & grind of training, the different sides of me that come out. I’ve been playing this sport for more than half my life and I still feel like I’m mastering the same skills I was working on when I was 15, but in different ways. It tests me daily. But I’ve learned, it’s the people you surround yourself with that make the journey worthwhile.”

What has been your favourite beach to compete on? 

“Ironically, we don’t often compete on beaches. You’ll find us playing in tennis stadiums filled with sand or in a parking lot somewhere.”

“My favourite actual beach is probably Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro. My favourite venue I’ve competed in is in the middle of the Swiss Alps in Gstaad, Switzerland. But no matter how much I travel, going back to Ashbridge’s Bay in Toronto where I learned how to play, always fills my heart.”

How do you like to spend your free time when you aren’t training?

“With my feet up, a face mask on watching a good Netflix series or playing board games with my siblings. I also love going out to a concert, live music is so healing for me.”