Olympians bring course content to life

How often do York University students have the chance to meet Olympians, one of them a York graduate? Thanks to Hernan Humana, a former volleyball coach who teaches in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science in the Faculty of Health, an entire class recently had that opportunity.

Hernan Humana. Photograph by Ken Turriff

Humana teaches a third-year kinesiology elective, Olympic Games: Heroes and Villains at Play, which he describes as “a sociocultural and historical perspective on the Olympic Games and the main individuals involved in them.” In talking to the experiential education specialist from his department, he realized that he could bring the course content to life by inviting actual Olympians to meet his students.

“As an Olympic coach myself, I could share with the students my own experience with the Olympic Games, but it was important that they also hear directly from two athlete guest speakers who could help the students see the applications of the course concepts by sharing their trials and tribulations and the benefits of the Olympic experience,” Humana said.

First, Humana contacted John Child, half of Canada’s only medal-winning beach volleyball duo. With partner Mark Heese, Toronto-native Child earned a bronze medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, coached by Humana. Child, who retired from competition in 2006 and is now the owner of Toronto’s Leaside Volleyball Club, was happy to pay a visit to his former coach’s classroom.

Humana also contacted Volleyball Canada to ask for an appearance by an Olympic hopeful and, surprisingly, they suggested Melissa Humana-Paredes, the professor’s daughter, who is currently ranked No. 2 in the world for beach volleyball with her partner, Sarah Pavan. Humana was delighted, since Humana-Paredes is a York University graduate who was named the University’s female athlete of the year in 2015. She attended the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro as the alternate on the Canadian beach volleyball team and is training for the 2020 games in Tokyo.

“Melissa talked to the students about what it was like to prepare for the Olympics: setting goals and making sacrifices,” Humana said. “She told them about the glamorous parts of her life, as well as the not-so-glamorous.

“John, on the other hand, talked about creating a life after the Olympics, struggling with identity and trying to figure out which path to follow.”

Child further delighted the class by bringing his bronze medal along, allowing students to hold it.

“They were touching it and taking pictures,” Humana said. “An Olympic medal is a bit of a magical thing.”

The students agreed.

“I truly enjoyed this experience and I feel extremely grateful for the opportunity to have such an intimate experience with a former Olympian,” said Darryl Cormier. “This is something I will remember forever.”

However, the visit wasn’t all fun and games for Humana’s students. He built a number of assignments around the guest lectures, requiring the students to research the speakers in advance and prepare questions to ask them. Afterward, he had the students write a piece reflecting on the experience and whether their ideas about Olympians had changed as a result. He also included a question about the talks on the final exam.

Humana was delighted that the guest lectures were so well received.

“The guest lectures showcased York’s connection to and history with the Olympic Games,” he said.

Story by Elaine Smith, special contributing writer