Coast Union athletes: Where are they now?

Expending & conserving energy: Melissa Soto’s story

Special to The CambrianAugust 14, 2013 

This is the story about a successful Coast Union High School student-athlete who went from expending extensive amounts of energy on long-distance runs to a career that revolves around the conservation of energy in San Luis Obispo County homes.

What a youthful mind dreams of and projects concerning future vocational possibilities often turns out to be radically different from the career actually embraced in adulthood.

Indeed that rule applied to Melissa Soto, a gifted student athlete who graduated in 2002 with a 4.17 cumulative GPA and won CIF honors in cross country her senior year at Coast Union.

Melissa had carved out a goal to become a teacher. As the miles rolled away on her daily training runs on Santa Rosa Creek Road, she imagined being in a classroom inspiring her students. “I always loved working with kids,” she recalls.

In fact, she did knock on the door of the teaching profession — and earned her master’s degree in education — but meanwhile other doors opened for her, first in banking and later in real estate. Today Melissa is many miles away from classroom dynamics.

She is Melissa Carstairs, a Realtor, and, with her husband Tim, a certified Home Energy Rating System (HERS) professional, she operates Energy-Wise Realty in Los Osos — a firm that specializes in energy-efficient/sustainable energy properties.

The Carstairs definitely walk the walk to back up their realty specialization: they live in a solar-powered home with their two children and drive an electric car.

Upon graduation from Cal Poly, Melissa took a bank manager position at Downey Savings in Arroyo Grande; later she worked as an enrollment counselor for the online University of Phoenix in Paso Robles. At that time she completed her master’s (from the University of Phoenix) and still had plans to teach.

But other options offered better financial opportunities and, because her husband had 10 years of experience in the energy engineering industry — and both understood the significance of lowering homeowners’ energy costs by limiting carbon footprints — it was commonsense for the Carstairs to launch a realty office that specializes in energy-efficient properties.

“When you buy a car, you want to know the miles per gallon, and when you buy a house you want to know how energy efficient the house design is. Our specialty is listing properties that are energy efficient or have alternative energy systems installed,” she explained.

Meanwhile, as a student athlete at Coast Union, Melissa was most keen on soccer, a winter sport, so to get in shape for the grueling challenge of continually hustling up and down the soccer field, she took up cross country (a fall sport) her sophomore through senior years.

“In soccer my position was always mid-field, so you’re doing the most running and you have to be in pretty good shape,” she explained in a phone interview.  It turned out that running brought Melissa a powerful sense of enjoyment and accomplishment.

“Even after soccer season in my junior year, I would get up at six in the morning before my parents and run for 45 minutes to an hour. We lived on Santa Rosa Creek Road and I ran up and down hills. That’s why I was so much better as a senior running cross country — I was working out all year.”

Long distance running “clears your head — it’s almost like meditating,” Melissa explained. “You get in your groove and you can plan out your life. There’s no interruption.”

Moreover, the life she shares today with her children includes athletics. Sports are “very important,” and, hence, both her daughters (6 and 3 years of age) are involved in gymnastics; her 6-year-old plays soccer (mom’s the coach) and T-ball as well.

“I go on walks with my kids often … sports are extremely important for adolescents because it provides discipline and structure for them. Sports help them learn to set goals and follow through with them,” she made clear.

So even if her daughters change their minds about careers once they finish high school — or choose not to follow in their parents’ career footsteps — living in the Carstairs family they will nonetheless be fully versed on the need to reduce their carbon footprints.

Email John FitzRandolph at

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