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How a Herriman mother went from fitness classes to being a contender to box in 2020 Olympics

SOUTH JORDAN — Some days, the dream Whitney Gomez chases seems as real as the husband she loves, the children they raise, the business she built.

More often, however, the dream feels more fantasy than goal, so far and preposterous, she questions not only her ability to achieve it but her audacity for pursuing it.

“All the time,” the 29-year-old Herriman woman said of how far she feels from her goal of representing the U.S. in the Olympic Games as a boxer in 2020. “That is where I am so thankful for my husband because he helps me pull back, and says, ‘Yeah, you have all of those steps, but let’s just focus on Tennessee, just focus on that qualifier.’”

Gomez said her dream of competing in the Olympics was born long before she ever stepped into a boxing ring.

“I’ve always wanted to go to the Olympics, in any sport,” she said. “Since I was 8 years old, it’s been my goal.”

The West Valley native competed in water polo in college where she studied interior design. After graduating, she began competing in triathlons, and that seemed to be her most logical path to the Olympics.

“I was competing in triathlons, but then I had my girls back-to-back,” the mother of three said. “I took a break from triathlons.”

She continued working out, but started taking different group exercise classes.

“Group fitness led to kick boxing, and then kick boxing led to boxing,” said her husband, Martel Gomez. “After a while, she said, ‘I really enjoy boxing.’ She started training, and we saw she was really good. She said, 'I want to go to the Olympics,' and I said, ‘Let’s get you there then.’”

An uneasy introduction

Gomez smiles slightly as she talks about her transition from boxing fitness classes to training to be a fighter.

“I remember the first few times of sparring,” she said. “The second time I ever sparred, I went into the bathroom and cried afterward because I couldn’t take it.”

She felt anger and humiliation.

“I was thinking like, ‘Why are you hitting me?’” she said. “And then I went home, and I kind of sat back and thought like, ‘If you can’t spar like this, you can’t do this. If you can’t take a hit, then you can’t hit someone else.’ I came back fresh-minded and thought, ‘OK, they’re going to hit you and that’s OK. You just hit back.’ And from that point on I was OK.”

Gomez, who is ranked No. 2 in the country at 141 pounds with USA Boxing, said her love for the sport comes from what it offers her. A life-long athlete, she said she’s never undertaken anything more challenging than boxing.

“It’s super empowering,” she said, “just to know that I can do something that is so challenging. It’s something a lot of people think, ‘How?’ and 'Why? Why do you want to get punched in the face?’ And it’s not that I want to get punched in the face. But I do want to do something that challenges me so deeply and so intensely that I can take on all the other crap that gets thrown my way. There is a lot of that. … There are so many challenges that we face, I think, ‘If I can do this, I can handle those things.’”

There is so much about the sport that is misunderstood — or not even understood at all — by those who’ve never stepped in the ring.

“A lot of people just think it’s like a dog fight,” she said, laughing. “You’re in there just beating the crap out of each other.” And then, she offers an admission.

“When I first came into Fullmers, I had just started boxing, and I was kind of dabbling with the idea of coming here, and I came in and saw them sparring,” she said. “There was blood in the ring, and I was like … this is the real thing.”

Fighting stereotypes

She laughs at the memory of being repulsed by blood in the ring because boxing is not for the squeamish or sensitive. In fact, that is part of the reason she loves it.

For most of her life, the world has been desperate to put her into a stereotype. As an attractive woman, oftentimes the assumption is that she isn’t tough or capable. She rejects the stereotypes and wants a superficial society to see her as more than another pretty face.

“There is nothing pretty about this,” she said, sweeping her eyes around the austere training facility. “I think that is a big part of what drives me to do a sport where there you get bloody noses, you get black eyes, you get snot running out your nose, you hair gets messed up. There is nothing pretty in boxing.”

Like a lot of attractive women, she wants people to see what she can do instead of what she looks like.

“I want to come to the gym and be seen as a boxer,” she said. “Not a pretty girl who boxes.”

Gomez understands that some might not take her serious because she is pretty and she chose to have a family before getting settled on her path to that dream.

She met and married Martel 11 years ago, and they have a son who is 10 and two daughters, ages 5 and 3.

When she and Martel decided to find ways for her to pursue her dream, she knew she’d be shattering other stereotypes. At the top of the list is the idea that moms aren’t supposed to be chasing their own dreams. They’re supposed to sacrifice their time and attention for the aspirations of their children.

“I feel like that all the time,” she said. “I have days where I doubt myself, I doubt my ability to do what I do. But my kids and my husband are really supportive. They’re like my No. 1 fans.”

Martel said his wife’s dream belongs to all of them.

“Everyone always asks me, ‘How do you feel about your wife doing this? If my wife were doing this, no way.’ But it’s something she excels at, she enjoys it, and it relieves her stress. She’s good at it, and I see it as a positive in many aspects of her life. I tell her, ‘If it helps you, it helps us. Let’s keep doing it.”

He said no one is more amped for one of Whitney’s fights than her children.

“There is a lot of pride in our family whenever Whitney has a fight,” he said. “My kids get all excited. ‘Mom, you’re going to win a trophy or a belt or whatever.’ They’re excited to tell everyone around, ‘My mom is a boxer.’ I tell people, ‘My wife is a boxer and she’s going to the Olympics.’”

A family's dream

Gomez said choosing to work out at Fullmer Brothers Gym solidified her dream in many ways.

Nick Butterfield is her coach and he works out with her one-on-one in the mornings three days a week and then she comes to group training with the team four nights a week. She trains on her own, as well.

“I’d seen her fight a couple of times before she came in,” he said. “She had some real good potential.”

Together they made adjustments to her style, increased her range, and he’s kept her fighting consistently, which is key to success for a boxer. She said Butterfield’s coaching and support, as well as the supportive atmosphere at the gym, have helped her in pursuit of a goal that could get closer with a win in October’s qualifying tournament in Tennessee.

If she wins there, she can compete in USA Boxing’s December tournament in Salt Lake City. Finishing top two there would get her an invitation to train with Team USA. But most immediately, she hopes to win a July Golden Gloves tournament as she focuses on simply getting better and stronger each day.

“She has a great work ethic,” Butterfield said. “She’s pretty skilled and technical. She’s a technical fighter and can come at it from all different angles. I don’t know how she balances being a mom, running a business and training. To me, it’s incredible that she’s able to do that.”

Whitney said some days she’s not sure how she balances everything, while her husband said she seems to thrive on a frenetic pace.

“I don’t know, now that I have three kids, some days I do start to doubt that (chasing the Olympics) is the right thing,” she said, pausing as a buzzer sounds, signaling fighters to switch training stations. “I always make sure I have specific times that are only family time, and that’s it. Clients try to weasel their way into my family time, and I say no I can’t.” Butterfield said sometimes family time and gym time become one.

“Sometimes she brings her kids, sometimes she doesn’t,” he said of nightly training. “Sometimes it’s her whole family — husband and kids — coming to the gym. I think it’s great. They’re doing it together as a family. The support she has from her husband and family is incredible.”

Regardless of who shows up with her, Gomez pushes herself with the kind of commitment required to win championships.

“Some of the workouts she does are incredible,” Butterfield said. “She’s an animal.” One thing that gets in her way at times is her own high standards.

“She’s a perfectionist,” he said. “So she tries and she gets really frustrated because she thinks she should be able to do it in the first couple of tries. … Perfectionists tend to think too much, instead of just letting go. They think they should be perfect, but you have to continually do it over and over again until it becomes habit.”

Gomez said it’s the focus and discipline boxing requires that pushes her past doubt and through exhaustion.

“This is a different level of intensity because this requires a level of mental toughness that I don’t feel any of the other sports I’ve done require,” she said. “They required mental toughness, but this is different. The other person is out to hurt you.”

She admits the decision to chase her dream with a family in tow wouldn’t be possible without her husband’s support. Martel claims he’s simply reciprocating what she offers him. Both of them believe they’re teaching their children valuable life lessons.

“It’s definitely brought us closer together having that unity, that desire to support each other” Martel said. “Whitney supports me in my endeavors, and we support our children in their endeavors. It gives a good example to the children that you can do anything you want, even if other people tell you that you can’t, if you have the motivation the drive, the push and a good support system around you and you’re willing to make sacrifices. You can do anything.”