When Luis Gomez came to Northern six years ago, he was committed to two things: school and boxing. Now six years later, Gomez is out of the ring as an athlete, but still very committed to the same two things.
“I wanted to give back so much to the program, but (I also wanted to help) these new guys, because I know what it is like to be in their shoes,” he said.
Gomez is finishing up his master’s degree in public administration. Since balancing that workload with boxing was too much, he decided the only way he could give back was as a volunteer coach for the USOEC team.
As a volunteer coach, Gomez performs all the duties that a regular paid assistant coach would on most teams. In addition, Gomez runs practices during head boxing coach Al Mitchell’s absences to coach professional boxer Vernon Forrest.
While the transition from athlete to coach has been hard for him, Gomez said he still gets a sense of accomplishment from his work.
“I have never been on the outside as only a coach,” he said. “There is a lot of pride and a lot of fulfillment when these guys step in the ring and do their business, and do everything that you told them to do.”
Mitchell said he likes having Gomez around because he is a positive role model for the younger athletes.
“He is a great example for them as both an athlete and as a student,” Mitchell said.
With the USOEC boxing team in a rebuilding phase after last year’s severe financial difficulties, Gomez felt he had to stay involved any way he could.
Now that the program is back to a full roster of nine athletes, Gomez said he will do whatever he can to keep the team here.
“It is back now, and that is another one of my core roles, to make sure these guys are doing their job, which is their sport, and doing well in school,” he said.
When the program faced elimination due to a lack of funding last year, Gomez went to sponsors, schools and Olympic board meetings and spoke on behalf of Northern’s USOEC boxing program.
“Initially, I said I’ll do whatever I can for this program. I’ll be spokesperson. If you need me to coach, I’ll coach,” Gomez said. “The program has given so much to me as a student athlete that I wanted to give back.”
What the program gave Gomez was the opportunity to move from Rock Springs, Wyo. to earn his bachelor’s degree in electronic journalism at NMU while still training for the Olympics. Gomez said he wouldn’t be at school attempting to earn a master’s degree now if it wasn’t for the opportunity originally given to him by the USOEC.
“I have a lot of knowledge to give back. I have dedicated over half my lifetime to this sport,” he said. “You take a lot of the things you learn far beyond just boxing.”
Outside the ring, Gomez also works a full time job with Michigan Works, so he only volunteers with the team when he can, but Mitchell said he is a great leader and couldn’t imagine the program without him.
Freshman Jesse Hart said he can see why Mitchell felt confident having Gomez serve as a volunteer coach.
“I know Luis is going to push us past our limits, plus (he will) be on top of us about school, and Al knows all this,” he said. “This is why Al left this man in charge with the program.”
While Gomez is involved, he is not in the ring competing, and this shows the younger members of the team that, through the program, there are more opportunities after college than the world of boxing.
Freshman Trevor Bryan said Gomez’s role on the team demonstrates what type of person – not just athlete – the program produces.
“As far as him trying to be a role model and trainer-coach, he is doing great. To tell you the truth I hope one day I can do the same thing,” he said.
Gomez gets his first chance to be in the corner as a coach with the squad later this month when the team travels to Wisconsin to compete in the Regional Golden Gloves. If an athlete wins at this level they qualify for the national tournament in May in Salt Lake City.
Bryan added Gomez has not only helped him with the upcoming competitions but also with the mindset of being a student athlete.
“I think we should all live by that (credo), with strong grades in the classroom and strong ethics in the boxing ring,” he said.
While Gomez’s role has changed on the team since he first arrived in 2002, his attitude toward the program is the same.
“I really want to help others whether it is in their school or boxing,” he said. “All these guys are capable of it, and there is nothing special about me. Everyone is capable of it; you just have to be dedicated. I hope I can encourage that.”