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After a strange 2020, Canada's world champion beach volleyball duo resets for 2021

The Canadian Press logoThe Canadian Press 2020-10-15
Sarah Pavan standing in front of a crowd © Provided by The Canadian Press

Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes are not accustomed to extended time away from each other or the beach volleyball court.

The reigning women's world champions from Canada had both scenarios forced upon them in 2020.

"We've never spent this much time apart from each other," Humana-Paredes told The Canadian Press. "It's been super-strange.

"We've never spent this much time apart from the game either."

Toronto's Humana-Paredes and Pavan of Kitchener, Ont., capped 2019 with both a world title and a world No. 1 ranking.

The duo's plan for 2020 was to be ready for the start of the international pro tour in March and contend for a gold medal in the Tokyo Summer Olympics in July.

The COVID-19 pandemic shut down most of the tour this year. The Summer Games were postponed in March to 2021.

Pavan lives in Hermosa Beach, Calif.

Travel restrictions between Canada and the United States make getting together to train complex.

"We had the added challenge of being in different countries when the shutdown happened," Pavan said. "We were kind of scrambling to put something together for when we had to play."

Playing 10 events in a year is normal for the Canadians. Their only competition of 2020 was an invitational three-tournament Champions Cup in Long Beach, Calif., in July and August.

The Canadians ranked second overall in the Cup, which was played with no spectators, despite the rust of nine months without a match.

"I think we were realistic. We were not going to be the team we were last season," Pavan said. "We were just trying to see it as an opportunity to reunite our team, get some touches in and earn some money.

"I think it's clear to everybody we did not play great. As an athlete that's a little bit disappointing. We have to be kind to ourselves in the situation."

Humana-Paredes quarantined for 14 days upon her return to Canada as per public health regulations.

The 28-year-old can't afford to do that often. Humana-Paredes wants to hit the gym hard in preparation for 2021. Working out in her living room while under quarantine isn't enough.

"I'm kind of an undersized player. I have to be physically fit," the five-foot-nine athlete said. "Losing that muscle and then competing again, it was quite eye-opening for me.

"I'm going to do whatever I can to find a way to train and get the strength that I need to be in the best shape."

Ontario shutting down gyms this week because of a rise in COVID-19 infections is a barrier to her goal.

So she's departing sooner than planned on a trip to Victoria to visit boyfriend and national rugby team player Connor Braid.

"For the sake of being able to lift, I'm going to fly to another province to be able to do that," Humana-Paredes said.

"I don't know how long I'll be out there for. I don't know how long to pack for."

Pavan would have to quarantine for 14 days if she came to Canada. She too wants to avoid deconditioning. She's foregoing a trip home at Christmas.

"I'm working really hard right now to build up my strength foundation for the season and I can't just sit in my parents' house for two weeks," Pavan said.

"For Melissa to come back here is a little easier because there's no quarantine in place."

Pavan and Humana-Paredes would normally be enjoying their off-season now. Given their inactivity this year, Pavan will soon start beach workouts with a coach.

Humana-Paredes intends to join Pavan in California in January to start pre-season training. They hope the pro tour begins next spring followed by the Olympic Games.

The postponement of the Tokyo Games was a blow for the 34-year-old Pavan.

"I would say March was a dark, dark period, for sure," Pavan said. "I went through my grieving process back in the spring.

"Since then, I've come to just be in this place of knowing that this is completely out of our control. I'm aware that there's a chance this might not happen, even next summer. That would be devastating, but I can't let myself go there right now.

"We're going to start our pre-season in January and prepare like we're going to play in the spring. Hopefully that will mean we are fresh mentally and physically, and we'll be able to peak and perform our best if the Olympics do happen."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 16, 2020.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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