Herriman’s Whitney Gomez said she and Ravven Brown of San Antonio spent nine minutes on Thursday night “trying to beat the crap out of each other” in a Female Elite Division 141-pound bout at the USA Boxing National Championships.
Then they shared a long hug.
Gomez, a 30-year-old mother of three who began boxing less than two years ago, said the “sportsmanship and camaraderie” that the sport provides keeps her in it — along with her dream of making it to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
But that dream will have to wait as Brown was declared the winner of the semifinal matchup Thursday, much to the chagrin of Gomez’s sizable cheering contingent.
Gomez, who grew up in West Valley City, attended Hunter High School and swam and played water polo in college, is one of four women from the Beehive State competing in the national championships at the Salt Palace Convention Center this week.
Kearns’ Monica Lazalde advanced to Saturday’s finals at 106 pounds with a win over Jacquelyn Cuddeback of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Thursday. Lazalde, 29 and the mother of two, has been boxing since she was 14 but has never fought for the USA Boxing national title before.
“I just put the pressure on her and never quit,” she said.
Park City’s Maryguenn Vellinga, 35, lost her semifinal bout at 112 pounds in a close decision to Kristyn Juarez of Los Angeles.
The fourth Utahn in the Female Elite competition, Salt Lake City’s 30-year-old Amber Montoya, fights in the semifinals at noon on Friday at 178 pounds.
For Gomez, it was a disappointing night, but won’t deter her plans. Why does she do it?
“One of the biggest things that boxing has provided for me is that I can be myself,” she said. “I don’t have to be this mother of three that everybody expects me to be, this perfect mom who always has dinner on the table, this perfect mom who always has her stuff together. I can just do me and be me and worry about me and just find validation within myself because I am doing something I love.”
Gomez’s nickname is “Hollywood” among her fellow competitors, and her supporters chanted that throughout the tense bout, but the decision didn’t go her way.
“I am doing something where I don’t necessarily have to be pretty or dance all the time,” she said. “Because that’s kinda been my life. People say, ‘you’re so pretty,’ and stuff like that. Boxing has freed me from that.”
Gomez does it all while raising three children — Kingston, Sienna and Gemma — with her husband of 12 years, Martel, and overseeing 12 clients as a personal fitness trainer. She had her first fight in February of 2016 and participated in her first nationals last December in Kansas City.
“USA boxing is fantastic,” she said. “It is a fantastic group of individuals. All the athletes are amazing. I love the sportsmanship. We go in there and battle like crazy, and then we give each other a hug at the end and are best friends the next morning at weigh-ins.”
Utah’s only entrant in the Male Elite Division, 141-pounder Ismael Gutierrez of Herriman, lost by unanimous decision to Delante Johnson of Cleveland on Wednesday night in a first-round bout.
Saturday’s 7 p.m. finals — when Elite Division champions will be crowned in 10 men’s and women’s weight classifications — are $10 per person.
“It will be some of the best boxing you have ever seen,” USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee promised at a Thursday morning news conference. “It will be an incredible event.”
USA Boxing’s national tournament, which has brought nearly 700 amateur boxers to Utah, will return to Salt Lake City next year as well.
“We have a rich tradition of amateur boxing in our state,” said Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, a former amateur boxer who told the gathering that he was the son of a single mother who took up the sport searching for positive male role models.