ENCINITAS — If there’s one thing for certain, don’t bet against Joel Gomez.
Gomez, a 17-year-old Encinitas resident, has been legally blind and severely color blind since birth.
Born with blue cone monochromacy, a rare genetic disease impacting the retina, Gomez has dealt with his visual impairment frequently in everyday life, such as often struggling to read the whiteboard at school.
“That blue on white, I just can’t see it,” Gomez said. “We’d often have to deal with having to explain to the teacher, use a black marker please. Trust me, it’s more difficult than just asking.”
Gomez is unable to distinguish a person’s features from even a few feet away, but it has not stopped him from earning a growing collection of track and field medals.
Gomez, a member of the US Paralympic Track and Field team, has represented his country in Switzerland, Peru and Dubai, earning two gold medals and one silver medal in the 1500m and 400m events.
Among his many accomplishments, Gomez was recently awarded an $8,000 undergraduate scholarship from the Lighthouse Guild in New York City, a charitable organization devoted to advocacy for those with vision impairments.
“It’s a huge honor and it means the world to me because it’s going to help me achieve my dream of becoming an industrial engineer,” Gomez said.
After recently graduating from The Classical Academies in Escondido, Gomez has chosen to attend Purdue University in the fall.
“Industrial engineering is all about making things as efficient as possible. So with running it’s all about getting to the finish line as quickly as possible and learning to train smart, not hard. That’s why I gravitated towards it,” Gomez said.
After school, Gomez also has a dream of using his learned skills to work for Disney.
In the meantime, Gomez is preparing for trials that will hopefully send him to Tokyo this summer for the Paralympic Games that were postponed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Gomez became connected with the US Paralympic team and coach Joaquim Cruz after an incident at a high school meet in which he was told he couldn’t race with his sunglasses.
“After the meet, my mom was pretty upset about that so we wrote Richard Robert (vice president of para-athletics for US Track and Field in Southern California), and he got me to be able to wear my glasses at future races and he also connected me with the Paralympic team and Coach Cruz,” Gomez said.
Since Cruz first saw Gomez run in a meet in Arizona in 2018, he began sending him training plans.
The email sent by Gomez’s mom is just one way his parents have shown their support for their son in his efforts to achieve his goals despite the roadblocks life has given him.
“I often joke that I wouldn’t be where I am literally without my parents because I can’t drive,” Gomez said. “We’ve learned how to be really adaptive. And they’ve sacrificed a lot for me.”
Training has been a little more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic but Joel has still found time to run at some of his favorite local spots around North County.
“The best one that I run at pretty much every single day if I’m not doing a track workout is the Coast to Crest trail between Del Mar and Rancho Santa Fe,” Gomez said.
Gomez’s qualification trial for the Tokyo Games will be June 18 and he will know whether he needs to pack for the trip in August on June 20.
“It’s close. It will be down to the wire I think,” Gomez said.