Women's beach volleyball: Hey, that's my daughter!
Behind the bikini is a world-class athlete
I'm the proud stepfather of Melissa Humana-Paredes, who is representing Canada at the Pam Am Games in women's beach volleyball.
I'm also a lucky guy, because I'm able to get up close to the action on the court as I photograph the matches for CBC Sports.
But it's not without its challenges. You may have noticed: Melissa wears a bikini. In the heat. On the sand. Sometimes in the rain.
Most of the people in the crowd filling Toronto's Chevrolet Beach Volleyball Centre see not only the beautiful bodies, but all the other things that make this sport so thrilling to watch. They roar their delight and approval.
But I know there are some people who see only one thing: bums in bikinis.
A few days ago, as I was working on processing game photos on my computer in the Pan Am Media Centre, a cop on security duty began chatting with me. He was interested in what I was doing with the pictures. I had a photo of Melissa's teammate, Taylor Pischke, on the screen. I mentioned to him that she was part of the Canadian team who had won earlier in the afternoon. Then I moved to a photo of Melissa and proudly announced that she's my stepdaughter.
He burst out laughing.
Then, reaching for his cell phone, he said, "I have to show you something that my friend sent me." It was a photo of Melissa, taken from behind as she bent over waiting for the ball to be served. He didn't read me the friend's comment, but clearly it had nothing to do with her prowess as an athlete.
To my delight, he told me he said to his friend, 'You know, that's somebody's daughter!'"
Brains and beauty
I appreciate the policeman's way of seeing things.
What I see when I'm taking pictures of Melissa is a wonderful, bright, talented, determined and beautiful athlete who is one of the top players in the world. I've watched her play for years, and I'm still astonished by her agility and athleticism. I'm impressed by her intelligence as a player — her knowledge of what could happen next and what she can do to capitalize on opportunities she's able to predict while also reacting to the unexpected.
I see the same thing when I'm watching all the other players from across the Americas competing at this wonderful event.
I know the dedication required for the players to make it to the Games. I know the years of training, the travel to far-flung tournaments, the loneliness of having to be away from home and missing family events or friends' weddings. I know that, like Melissa, many of these athletes are missing their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, pets and friends while they pursue their dreams.
What I also see as I kneel at courtside photographing these athletes is their beautiful bodies, perfected through year-round exercise, fine-tuned to be able to jump higher, move faster and exert themselves for longer. I see my daughter Melissa throwing herself across the court, diving for balls, soaring to spike.
I appreciate the enthusiasm of the crowds who come down to share the sun and the heat of the venue with Melissa. (They don't wear bikinis for the occasion, but they don't exert themselves quite so hard either!)
I see my stepdaughter through the eyes of adoring fans, who line up to get a chance to take selfies with her. Melissa has what my Chilean wife, Myriam, refers to as "angel" — a quality, a beauty, that shines from within whether she is playing on the court, being interviewed for TV, or greeting supporters.
People who see only the uniform are exposing their inability to take in the bigger picture. Maybe for them, someone in a bikini can be nothing more than a beach bimbo. Or perhaps a beautiful body in a bikini is just a sexual object to them.
The crowds at the Pan Am venue, the audience watching on TV and online, see athletes playing a sport full of excitement, emotion, energy and elegance.
I see all of that from up close, my camera to my eye.
And I see something very special: I see somebody's daughter.
I see Melissa Humana-Paredes — my stepdaughter.
You should see her too.