For Whitney Gomez, boxing is the ultimate catharsis.
The 32-year-old wife and mother of three has held fast to her childhood dream of becoming an Olympian — first in swimming, then later in triathlon.
But she has found her calling in the boxing ring, a place where she can let go of her anxiety and depression stemming from a traumatic childhood.
“I had a lot of trapped emotions and things that I didn’t know how to work through,” says Gomez, who moved to Bend a year ago from Salt Lake City when her husband took a new job. “Once I found boxing I finally felt like I had all this power and I could work through those things and survive, and not have to carry them anymore. I gained a lot of mental clarity.”
Gomez, a personal fitness trainer, won three fights in a Last Chance Qualifier in Oxnard, California, in early November to qualify for the U.S. Boxing Olympic Team Trials in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Saturday through Dec. 16. She will fight in the lightweight (132-pound) class.
Gomez did not take up boxing until about four years ago in Salt Lake City and had her first bout in early 2016. She now trains with coach Richard Miller and the Deschutes County Rocks boxing club in Bend.
“She’s talented, and there’s nobody in her division that’s in better shape,” Miller says. “She works out about three times a day. She’s got a good jab and we’ve gotten her to be more aggressive. She’s really improved in the last year. She’s got as good a chance as anybody else to make the Olympic team.”
The women’s Olympic trials field includes 40 elite boxers vying for 10 spots, or two per weight class, in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. There are eight fighters in the 132-pound class at the trials.
“All these things in my sphere have kind of come together and I feel like I’m on a different playing field than I’ve ever been on,” Gomez says. “If I fight the way I train, I definitely think I will win.”
Growing up in the Salt Lake City area, Gomez always competed in sports. She was a swimmer and track and field athlete through high school and played water polo for Grossmont College in San Diego.
Gomez says her mother suffered from mental illness, making for a difficult childhood and a challenging environment in which to pursue Olympic dreams.
“She struggled with mental illness my entire childhood, she was in and out of the hospital, trying to take her own life,” Gomez recalls. “Luckily she never succeeded and she’s still around, and that’s a huge blessing. But that was really hard to navigate through. I kind of lost my own power and my own ability to choose, and boxing for me gave that back. It literally saved my life when I was at my lowest point, and just kind of helped me realize how strong I am and how much I can be the master of my own ship. I’m in charge of my life, nobody else.”
With her husband, Gomez has a 12-year-old son and 8- and 6-year-old daughters. Shortly after her son was born, Gomez started competing in triathlon, but eventually decided to have more kids and moved on to teaching fitness.
“I always wanted to go to the Olympics,” Gomez says. “Basically since I started swimming (as a young girl) I told myself I would be an Olympian someday. That’s been my dream since I was 8 years old. When I found triathlon, I thought, yep, this is it, this is the route to get me there. I was doing really well and always placing in the top three. But we decided to have more kids ... and then I found boxing.”
She started kickboxing by shadowing another instructor, and then moved on to boxing when some of her friends started training at a gym in the Salt Lake area.
“I realized how much I liked the more technical side of it,” Gomez says. “So I started training with a coach.”
As she continued to win fights in USA Boxing and Golden Gloves tournaments, she realized that her path to achieving her Olympic dream might just come via boxing.
But in late 2018, her husband was changing jobs and the family was moving. She loved her coaches in Utah and says it was “super scary” when she found out she was moving to Bend.
Luckily for Gomez, Miller and Deschutes County Rocks provided the training and the support system she needed.
“I kind of lucked out because he’s awesome, and the team is awesome,” Gomez says of Miller and the Rocks. “I think just the level of training now is different because I’m able to focus more. I don’t have as much chaos in my life now that we live in Bend, so I think that, together with Richard’s coaching style … he was able to pull something out of me that I had not been able to reach myself, some untapped potential that was always there. I finally feel like I got over a plateau that I had been stuck at for a long time. It’s been a very positive change.”
Before qualifying for the trials last month, Gomez had competed in two previous qualifiers, one in March and one in October. She lost in a split decision in the semifinals in both of those.
“It was painful both times,” she says.
But she stayed determined, knowing the event in Oxnard was her last chance.
“If I want to be able to keep pursuing this dream, this was literally it,” Gomez says. “I just had this feeling the whole time that I knew I would do it. Every fight I went in super confident. I knew I had put all the effort into my training and I relied on that. I knew if I did exactly what I had been doing I’d win, and I did.”
Along the way, her family has stayed supportive, communicating via FaceTime when she is gone on boxing trips. Training for the Olympics while raising a young family and maintaining a career as a personal trainer has not been easy.
“My kids know if they stay on board they get a trip to Japan next summer,” Gomez says.
But perhaps more important than the Olympics, is the inner peace that she has found through boxing.
“I struggle with anxiety and depression,” Gomez says. “But finding boxing, and just being able to finally let go of a lot of those things was huge, and huge for my family, too.”