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by Morgan Zylstra

“Growing up as a Mexican-American I never knew how big of a deal it was to come from immigrant parents until I was older. It’s something that I learned to take pride in especially because I was fighting to not be a mistake or be what society wanted me to be.” Living as a Mexican-American for Melissa Paramo had its ups and downs in her youth, but little did she know that her culture would impact her whole life for the better and create a life lived fully around the idea of athletics, specifically, soccer.

Melissa Paramo was born and raised in Gardena, a small town in southwest Los Angeles County. Growing up, she moved around a lot because her parents did not have steady jobs, but with the support of her extended family, they were able to live with her mom’s relatives who were located in that area. Melissa has two brothers, Juan Pablo (seventeen) and Christopher (eleven). Her mom came from a family of nine and her dad a family of seven, which has resulted in a large extended family. Melissa grew up in a Mexican-American culture with both of her parents being immigrants from Mexico. Her mom’s side of the family lives in California while her dad’s side of the family still lives in Mexico. Melissa, at the age of twenty-one, is the oldest child in her family. She has found that growing up as the oldest child has been very difficult. Her reasoning for this is because she always had to set an example for her younger brothers to show them how to be hard workers in school, at work, and at home. Her family taught her a good work ethic and she has always lived with that in mind. Her mom taught her how to be an independent woman and also that it is important to know how to cook and clean.

Melissa is very family-oriented and as a kid she hung around her uncles a lot. Her whole family loves soccer and she learned a lot of aggressive traits from being around her uncles all the time, which has influenced her involvement in soccer. Melissa said that her dad was the oldest of his family and he was considered the favorite child and because of that she is also considered the favorite of her family.

Not only did Melissa grow up in a Catholic home, but she also attended private Catholic schools until college. She attended Saint Anthony Padua from kindergarten through eighth grade, and Junipero Serra High School for all four years of high school. Education was very important to Melissa and her family because she gained more opportunities than her parents did as immigrants. She appreciated how school was so accessible, which caused her to work hard. It was a big deal to her family if she messed up in school because she was a role model for her brothers and because she needed the education to support her family. She was taught by her mom that being an educated woman was very important. It didn’t matter if she enjoyed going to school or not; what mattered was her focus on success. Melissa’s classmates weren’t as serious about their schoolwork so she didn’t get along with them that well. In high school, Melissa made lifelong friendships and she has stayed connected with her small core group to this day. She enjoyed her friendships because of the connections she was able to make with other people that shared likes and dislikes. she was the only athlete in her group.  Her friends were very supportive at all of her games, and she returned the favor as well. She appreciated being supported and challenged by her friends. Her relationships with these people were not of utility or pleasure but of goodness.

Athletics have always been a part of her life starting with soccer being a huge part of her Mexican culture, which was enhanced by her dad’s die-hard love for the game. When Melissa was younger, she only played soccer and volunteered to be the goalkeeper when no one else would. In middle school, she decided to try out track and basketball but decided soccer was more fitting in her life. She enjoyed being the goalkeeper because she wasn’t afraid of the ball, and her cousin, a professional goalie, was passionate about the position so he trained her to be successful. In high school she became more committed to soccer and joined a club team her sophomore and junior year. Melissa was a natural born athlete and although she wasn’t necessarily gifted with the skill needed for soccer, she knew that if she put in the hard work and used her competitive mindset, she would be able to succeed. Taking advantage of the knowledge of the sport she had been taught since the day she was born, she became very serious about soccer, and near the end of her high school career her coach said that she had the potential to play college ball. Her junior year she looked for recruitment opportunities and with the assistance and expertise of her coach she was recruited by The University of California Merced after a long process of applying to what seemed like every single school in California.

Melissa never saw herself leaving the state for college, but also realized that she had been living in the same town her whole life. Merced was the perfect distance away from home. She was excited to learn responsibility and independence from the perfect location.

Melissa spent two years at Merced and in her first year tore her ACL, losing her opportunity to play. Thankfully, she didn’t need surgery on her knee but the physical therapy for an ACL injury was a process Melissa fell out of shape and become too unhealthy to play again. Her sophomore year she attended as a traditional student because soccer at this point was not an option. She knew in the back of her mind that soccer was a passion she didn’t want to let go.

Wendy Espejel, the assistant soccer coach at Providence, called Melissa that year to recruit her for the women’s soccer team that would be starting their first season in fall 2015. Wendy motivated Melissa to work hard and get back in shape so that she could continue playing. Wendy reminded Melissa of her competitive instincts and that she knows how to work hard if she sets her mind to it. Although Melissa wasn’t necessarily happy at Merced, she enjoyed the relationships she made there and doesn’t regret anything. Her best friend from high school, Miguel, went with her to Merced and her relationships with her roommates were so good that they still stay connected. Making the move to Providence was driven by her passion for soccer.

Melissa’s junior year, her first year at Providence, she was nationally ranked as the NAIA women’s soccer leader in saves with at least fifteen saves per game. Her senior year she received the all-region award of NCAA, ending her soccer career on a high note. Melissa realized that all of the hard work she put into training after her injury at Merced had paid off.

The influence of a Catholic education on Melissa’s education was difficult, to say the least. Melissa always recognized God’s importance in her studies but it was hard for her to understand Reformed theology. She would sometimes be frustrated with how confusing her homework would be but she knew that if she worked hard she would manage.

Melissa will be graduating from Providence this semester, concentrating in Social Science and Business. After she graduates, she plans to continue coaching the men’s goalkeepers at Maranatha High School here in Pasadena, along with finding a place to live on her own so that she can continue her journey of independence. She is very excited to financially support herself. Her future career goals include working in the sports management field and possibly interning at the Stubhub Center. Whatever Melissa chooses to do after college, she wants to make sure that soccer is the center focus of any career she has. Melissa loves everything about the game and sees herself impacting many lives through soccer.

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