Leap Member Highlight: Olympic Hopeful Rebeca Pazo

If you’ve been training at Leap for long, you’ve probably seen Rebeca Pazo. She trains hard, remaining focused and pushing herself with incredible feats of strength and power.

There’s a good reason for her intensity: she’s actually a member of the Venezuelan women’s beach volleyball team; she and her twin sister, Olaya, are serious contenders for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

That’s right: one of Leap’s members is one qualifying competition away from being an Olympic athlete! And just a few days ago, she was kind enough to brave the snowy weather to come in and speak with me about her life and athletic experiences.

Playing volleyball is nothing new for Rebeca; she has been playing indoor volleyball ever since she was a child in Venezuela. When she was 17, she moved to Houston to attend Rice University, where she played on their volleyball team: in fact, she still holds the record for the most number of “kills” (spikes) in all of the university’s history. She also had the opportunity to take one semester off to live in Puerto Rico to—you guessed it!—play volleyball.

Following her graduation from Rice, she spent three years in Spain, where she played for their national professional indoor volleyball team.

So how and why did she switch from indoor volleyball to beach volleyball? Largely, she was inspired by her sister, who had moved to Miami while Rebeca had been living in Spain. “Beach volleyball is big there: she started getting into it, and every time I visited her she’d come with me to play and train.”

It wasn’t long before they really started taking off. “We started playing some local tournaments in Florida,” Rebeca continued. “My sister got really into it: it’s almost her career. She played the AVP, which is the number-one professional beach volleyball tour here in the States.”

Olaya has been a large source of inspiration and guidance for Rebeca: “My sister has always been a mentor to me in beach volleyball, because she is able to play year-round and because—even though I’ve played on a national indoor volleyball team before and have played for many years—she’s been playing beach volleyball longer than I have. She travels even more than I do to compete. My job keeps my schedule pretty full in regards to when I can travel.”

And, in fact, even Rebeca’s day job is connected to her love of physical activity—she is the program director of Playworks, a non-profit organization that partners with low-income schools throughout Massachusetts. “We place our staff at the schools and they bring programs that help the kids have a positive school day,” she said. “We help make sure that they are not getting bullied, that they get help and opportunities to engage in physical activities.”

This philosophy of valuing the needs of others touches all aspects of Rebeca’s life—it even motivates her when she’s competing. “I’m the kind of athlete who likes to make sure that the whole team is better,” she said. “My motivation is more about team spirit, my teammates, and my coach than it is about myself and my ego. I usually play better when I’m not solely focused on myself.”

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that her team member is her twin sister, “We definitely are very, very close. We kind of know what each other is thinking just by our expressions. So, when it comes to volleyball, it’s really easy for me to read her state of mind and get a sense of what she’s going to do, and I think this makes it easier for the both of us.”

There are certain challenges when it comes to training for beach volleyball in Boston. Although the coaches of the Venezuelan team send her training programs, sometimes she needs to adapt the programs to the limitations of a snowy New England city. “I love Boston and I love living here, but it’s been very challenging to play the sport that I play while living here. It’d be great if there were some courts for indoor sand volleyball, but there just aren’t the facilities. My wish is that beach volleyball will grow more in the area.”

Still, that doesn’t stop her: “I like to work very hard when I train, and I have very good discipline. I’m not lazy and I don’t make excuses—I never make excuses.”

That drive to succeed is obvious to anyone who has ever seen her workouts. She loves free weights—“I think they’re better for me, and they get me to use my core more: for strength gains, free weights are the best!”—and doesn’t shy away from explosive power and speed training.

She even does the exercises that she doesn’t care for: “I hate burpees, but they’re great for beach volleyball.”

When asked about the best training advice she’s ever gotten, she didn’t hesitate a second before offering her reply: “As much as you can, stay in the present,” she said. “It’s hard if you shank the ball or get blocked, but you have to be able to let it go and just move on to the next ball. You have to just take care of every single step and stay really focused on the present moment.”

She’s also learned about the importance of a sustainable approach to nutrition. “I used to be a lot stricter about nutrition when I was in college, in the sense that I was not eating sugar or very much fat, but I’ve found out that wasn’t super healthy,” she said. “Now, I believe in a more balanced approach to diet, so I’m a little more flexible. I think I eat everything, just in reasonable quantities.”

And when it comes to indulging? “I think I’m a carb person. I like cake, and I’m into carbs.”

Obviously, we are thrilled to have her as part of the community here at Leap, and are glad that she’s chosen to train here. When asked why she chose Leap as her local training facility, she replied: “I like the equipment here, and I like how much space there is for me to do my free weight training. It’s also a really good environment to train in: it’s not intimidating, and everyone’s kind of laid back, doing their own thing and their own training. Plus, Steve and everyone else who works here—they’re all very friendly, and they all care. They take an interest in the members here.”

So, here is a woman who has a standing NCAA record, who has played for the national teams of two different countries, who works in a field that enables her to be of service to others, and who is one competition away from qualifying for the 2016 Olympics—that’s quite the list! Nevertheless, she hasn’t stopped reaching for further success. When I asked her what her greatest accomplishment has been, she replied: “I think that I still haven’t gotten my greatest accomplishment yet: it’s yet to be achieved.”

Then, after a pause, she added, “Maybe the Olympics will be it.”

I, for one, am already rooting for her, and I can’t wait to watch Rebeca and Olaya competing in Rio! With her enthusiastic spirit and commitment to training, I am excited to see what will come next for her… and I always look forward to seeing her here at Leap! 

--Lore, Personal Trainer at Leap-Fenway