Dalia Gomez Is More Than a Boxing Coach
As a pro bantam boxer and confidant, she teaches kids life lessons inside and outside the ring.
Photo courtesy Dalia Gomez
Ask any of her students: Dalia Gomez is a tough coach. She’ll take your junk food. She’ll make you run up hills in the morning. If you complain to Coach G about your lot in life, she won’t coddle you. Instead, she’ll tell you to take what’s given to you and make it work.
“A lot of the kids either they love me or hate me, and the ones that hate me end up loving me anyway, because they know I do things because I believe in them,” she said.
Gomez, a pro bantamweight boxer, has imparted that discipline through her roles as a PE teacher at Roots International Academy and as a boxing coach for kids and adults in Oakland. One of her students, Oscar Peña, met her when he was a junior in high school when he came by the boxing club she was working at. He wanted to lose weight and struggled with his confidence. “When I started boxing, it kind of gave me the motivation that I can do things,” he said. Gomez encouraged him to go to college, even driving him to a campus tour when he needed a ride. “I never thought that I was going to be going [to college]” said Peña, now a student at California State University Stanislaus. “She was there to guide me through the whole process.”
Gomez grew up in Oxnard. Some people call it “Boxnard” because of the amount of professional boxers that come from there, but Gomez didn’t know that growing up. She played other sports, basketball and softball, eventually winning a basketball scholarship to Evergreen College in Washington. But before she got a chance to play, she got a DUI, and the school stripped her of her scholarship. But Gomez didn’t want to give up. She was planning to be the first of her family to graduate from college. So she and her coach shook on it: Gomez would take the year off from school, since she didn’t have a scholarship anymore. She’d work — work hard — and if she had proved she could be responsible, she’d get her spot on the team back.
During that year, Gomez discovered boxing. And later, when she eventually made it back on the basketball team, she started talking to students about her experiences, her mistakes, and her lessons. That paved the way for the work she does now. Any sport can teach kids self-control and other important life skills. But there’s something about boxing, she said. She’s often working with kids from underprivileged backgrounds that are dealt unfair and infuriating hands by life. Gomez’s challenge is to help them work with and use that anger, without having it consume them.
“I’m supposed to be this chameleon that could be either [their] mom or their tía or their friend or whoever it is that they need so that they can succeed,” she said. “My coaches helped me. If it wasn’t for sports, I probably wouldn’t be who I am right now. I believe sports connects us all and it really, really helps you get by.”
Gomez’s goal is to open her own gym. She wants a place to teach her students the sport’s fundamentals and strategies: If you’re fighting someone fast, stay close and try to use your power against him. Fighting someone stronger? Focus on being quick and try to make them lose their balance. And if you’re opponent is a counterpuncher, someone who’s waiting for you to make the first punch, don’t just throw one punch. Do a five- or six-punch combination to throw them off their rhythm. It will be a place to learn those strategies, but also a place to give back, to help people train their bodies and minds. Boxing is a humbling sport, Gomez said, but that’s what makes it great. You can learn all the techniques you want, but at the end of the day? “In reality, you’re never ever fighting anybody. Your opponent is yourself,” she said. “When you go in there, if you believe you have a dope mind game and that your mind gym is on point, you could truly beat anybody.”