BOXING: One time for gold

Jacki Gomez, 15, practices with her trainer and uncle Armando Gonzalez at the San Martin Boxing Club on Tuesday. Gomez won the girls 138-pound USA Boxing National Junior Olympics last week in Mobile, Alabama.

There is boisterous activity in every corner of San Martin Boxing Club. It’s a typical Tuesday evening inside the converted barn hidden behind a pair of 18-wheelers across the street from the San Martin Airport. Aspiring boxers, most under the age of 15, spar in the ring, trainers bark out orders and the round-buzzer sounds every two minutes.

At a desk sits Gilroy resident Jacki Gomez, her knuckles still taped following a mitt workout with uncle and trainer Armando Gonzalez. She opens a laptop, slips in a DVD and presses play. She tunes out all the background noise and busyness around her. A train could have rumbled by feet from the tiny club’s front door at that moment and yet Gomez’s eyes would have stayed transfixed on the luminescent screen. She scoots to the edge of her seat with elbows rested on her knees.

“In the first round I thought I’d see what she had,” Gomez explained, her shoulders dancing as she mimicked the flow of the fight unfolding before her. “She had a big upper body and I figured she’d have an open guard. I knew that’d I’d work my one-two.”

Last Friday, Gomez, 15, climbed into the ring for her first fight in more than a year. It just so happened to be the biggest bout of the amateur boxer’s budding career – the finals of the USA Boxing Junior Olympic National Championships held in Mobile, Ala.

“I had to give it everything,” Gomez said. “I’ve been boxing since I was 8 years old and this is what I was waiting for.”

If there was any rust to rid of, Gomez did so immediately. She built a substantial point cushion after the first round and kept the pressure on over the next two, two-minute rounds, holding off a diligent Jackietha Baker (North Carolina) to the final bell.

“I guess she noticed that she was down and came out throwing more punches,” Gomez spotted as the video moved to the third round. “But I quickly got her.”

Gomez defeated the taller and heavier Baker 25-10 to become the national champ – a victory she shared with her three older brothers who were watching at home via a live stream online.

“I knew there was a camera so I just kept smiling at it to my brothers,” Gomez said with a similar smile.

Gomez was one of six winners from Region 11, which is made up of boxers from California. Another Gilroy teen, Rosino LeGan, 15, won his opening bout in the 132-pound division over Tyjuan Townsend of St. Louis, Mo., by a score of 20-12 but lost in the quarterfinals Day 2.

Gomez, an incoming sophomore at Gilroy High School, who maintained a 3.6 grade point average during her freshman year, is the second youngest of six children. All of her brothers dabbled in the sport. One of them, Cesar Gomez, won the 165-pound Silver Gloves national championships in 2010. Jacki equaled that feat in 2011. Needless to say, boxing runs in the family.

“I guess it’s my turn now,” the bubbly and personable teen said. “I just really like it. (Boxing) caught my attention when I was little and since family on both my mom and dad’s side did boxing when they were younger, it was like, ‘Let’s keep going with it.’”

Often sparring with the boys, Gomez was assigned her nickname – La Peligrosa (The Dangerous) – by coach Roy Ramon shortly after her first fight. She has nearly 20 bouts to her resume now.

After a six-month vacation as part of her quinceañera, Gomez returned to regular training in January. Not expecting to participate in the Junior Olympic National Championships, Gomez stumbled into the opportunity when she, her dad Rafael and trainer/uncle Gonzalez (co-owners of the San Martin Boxing Club) realized that there was an open slot in the 138-pound division.

“I got lucky with that,” she said.

With four weeks until the tournament, they jumped at the chance knowing that the fighters they might encounter could be much bigger than the 5-foot-3 Gomez.

“It was an opportunity that other girls didn’t want to take because it’s a higher weight and you go against bigger girls,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a risk, and she took it.”

The intensity of her workouts – early morning conditioning, bag work, ring work, mitt work and so on – increased immediately.

“I tried staying away from distractions. I told my friends I was going to be busy and not to bother me during those weeks,” Gomez said. “So I took those last four weeks seriously and kept my mind on boxing and nothing else.”

If Gomez isn’t in the gym she said she likes to spend her time riding horses or hanging out with her brothers.

But there won’t be an abundance of spare minutes over the next few weeks as she prepares for the Desert Showdown World Amateur Championships July 10-14, where she will go for a fourth straight title. With an amateur record she estimates at 15-3, Gomez said she is going to take the next couple of years in stride, get into as many tournaments as possible and eventually escalate in hopes of reaching the national team by 2016 and the Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro.

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