Colombian Olympian Jonathan Gomez Shares His Story of Determination Through Trials

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Jonathan Gomez competing in the 200 butterfly at the Mesa Grand Prix in 2016. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By Molly Griswold, Swimming World College Intern.

Jonathan Gomez’s fingers wrapped around the worn binding and tattered pages of his books as he walked to class, carrying the weight of the words as he moved. These books hugged to his chest, however, were not just typical classroom textbooks. Instead, they were various types of dictionaries used to teach himself the English language.

At just thirteen years old, Gomez moved to the United States from Cali, Colombia, with his parents, brother and sister. They carried the dream, desire and determination to achieve success. On moving to America, Gomez recalls, “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but starting over in a new country gave us the hope and courage to defy all odds and follow our wildest dreams.”

Making it in America

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Jonathan Gomez and siblings, Valentina and Maicoll. Photo Courtesy: Jonathan Gomez

Poring over the words within the bindings of his textbooks guided Gomez to create meaningful chapters in his life. He used his dictionaries to decipher the teachers’ lessons and translate unknown words. Because of his persistence to study the language, Gomez learned English in just six months – an amazing feat, considering he began his education knowing none.

“We immersed ourselves in the American culture and the determination to be the best, both in school and in our sport,” says Gomez.

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Photo Courtesy: Jonathan Gomez

Discovering Purpose

The drive instilled in Gomez carries beyond his education and into the sport of swimming. But for Gomez, swimming did not begin as a fun activity – it meant survival. Since birth, Gomez had been experiencing serious respiratory problems as a result of severe asthma. Countless stays in the ICU caused his parents much worry. The medications that he was prescribed only aggravated his symptoms, leaving them helpless with seemingly no possible solution. However, his parents did not give up on his journey toward a healthy recovery. That is when he began swimming.

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Photo Courtesy: Jonathan Gomez

“This decision to join the sport [of swimming] became my livelihood. Each day I got in the pool, my lungs expanded and the willingness to survive through swimming enhanced my ability to thrive for a brighter future in the sport and show my capabilities at such a young age to defy the odds of dying.”

Lifelong Family

What began as a way to overcome his illness has grown into his passion. Gomez has trained with Scarlet Aquatics in New Jersey for most of his life, traveling up to two hours by train and bus to attend practices. Despite the health and transportation difficulties, Gomez reflects on his love for the team and his support system: “This team has been my home, my safe space and my confidant for the last 10 years; and without it, I wouldn’t be here today. I thank my parents, siblings, my amazing team Scarlet Aquatics, the coach that has been with me through everything; Mohamed [Abdelaal]. But especially, I wouldn’t be here today without God; my life has been devoted to him, and all I have achieved is because of him.”

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Jonathan pictured with sister, Valentina Gomez and coach, Mohamed Abdelaal. Photo Courtesy: Jonathan Gomez

Abdelaal, who has grown to know Gomez as not only an athlete but also as a person, reflects on being his coach: “Jonathan Gomez is a relentless warrior. His greatest gift is his motivation and work ethic. In our program, we often talk about pursuing excellence in all aspects of our lives. Jonathan embodies excellence to the fullest. He is kind, compassionate and personable outside the pool, yet a cage lion inside the pool.”

In addition to club swimming, Gomez was also coached by Abdelaal for two years as he swam for St. Peter’s University in Jersey City, New Jersey, before completing his college swimming career at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

International Stage

Gomez’s journey to great success escalated at just sixteen years old when he qualified for the World Junior Championships in Dubai – his first taste of elite international competition. He credits this meet as a turning point for the rest of his swimming career. Gomez soon realized he could potentially accomplish great things if he continued to push past his biggest challenges.

At age twenty, Gomez qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games. There, he competed in the Men’s 200 Meter Butterfly, qualifying for semifinals. Traveling and competing on the world’s biggest stage was not just any other meet for Gomez. He recalls, “It was an experience of a lifetime that gave me the encouragement and the hunger to strive for more and become an example to Colombian generations that no matter how big or far away an obstacle may seem, there will always be a way to achieve this goal through honesty, faith, and resilience.”

A New Chapter

The excitement for Gomez, however, did not stop there. He has signed with the International Swimming League under the New York Breakers, along with standout swimmers Michael Andrew, Lia Neal and Jacob Pebley.

Eleven years ago – just one year before his move to America – Gomez sat in front of his TV in Colombia watching the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He saw his friend Jackeline Renteria, a former training partner in Colombia, win a bronze medal in wrestling. Gomez reminisces about that being the exact point in time at which his dreams were strengthened. The goal formulated to give back to his hometown. “From this moment forward, I engraved in my mind that one day I would be part of an Olympic team and [would] have the opportunity to proudly represent my people, my land and bring an Olympic medal home.”

Gomez is currently training to earn a spot on the Colombian Olympic Team for Tokyo 2020. His next opportunity will be during the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, where, on August 6, he hopes to achieve the qualifying A cut time in the 200 Meter Butterfly.

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Photo Courtesy: Jonathan Gomez

With a success story like his, it can be hard to imagine how Gomez once carried the weight of the words in his dictionaries and the illness within his chest all those years ago. Now, he hopes to one day feel the weight of an Olympic medal wrapped around his neck, standing on the podium under the flag of the country where his dreams first began.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

3 comments

  1. avatar
    Superfan

    Nice article! Where is he training up to 2020? Back at Scarlet?

  2. avatar
    Anonymous

    Jonathan we are honored to have you on our team. Learning more about your story moved me to tears.

    We support you in your journey and your valiant dreams and purpose.

    Extra excited for your future and future of swimming and how the ISL effect will help make your dreams come true bringing change & hope to your country you so love.

    Godspeed at PanAms!

  3. avatar
    Swimmer Fan

    Enjoyed the article. Ability, yes, but it is desire that separates the pack. Looking forward to seeing the results of the 200 fly in Lima on August 6th. My best to Jonathan and his dream of being an Olympic medalist.