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West Jordan Journal

West Jordan High School outstanding graduate excels at everything to lift himself and others

Jun 10, 2021 02:14PM ● By Jet Burnham

Januel Gomez, pole vaulting coach for West Jordan High School, poses with the trophy after his pole vaulters swept the region championships in May 2021. (Photo courtesy of Januel Gomez.)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Januel Gomez works hard to make sure people don’t just see his wheelchair and mistakenly underestimate his abilities.

“I can't do the same things people can do,” he said. “I can't run or walk and so I'm motivated to level the playing field. I want to be the best and do the best I can do. If I can't do something, I'll be better at something else.”

Gomez has excelled in everything he’s done as a student at West Jordan High School. He’s an outstanding student, active in school organizations, an asset to the athletics program and well-respected by his peers and teachers.

WJHS Assistant Principal Sterling Hunt said Gomez is one of WJHS’s most accomplished scholars and one of the best students he’s ever worked with.

“Januel’s physical limitations have had zero impact on his ability to excel academically and to foster meaningful and lasting relationships in our school,” he said. He’s a sharp, capable and creative student. He adds to the intellectual rigor of his classes. He excels and does quality work in everything that he’s involved in. He has left a lasting mark on our school, its students, and our community.” 

Gomez is graduating from WJHS with a near-perfect 3.987 GPA, having completed Jag Academy, an accelerated learning program, and eight advanced placement courses. He was selected as WJHS’s Math Sterling Scholar and advanced to the state finals of the prestigious competition.

“I can't even name his strongest subject,” said Gary Erickson, WJHS hall monitor and football coach who assists Gomez daily. “He’s strong in everything. He doesn't let his handicaps hold him down one bit. In fact, it's almost to where it makes him stronger. It's not stopped him from anything he wants to do.”

Gomez applies his analytical mind and exemplary math skills to improve athletics systems. He has created databases and spreadsheets to help the track and field team. He is currently creating a mathematical system to standardize scoring for the World Dunk Association. He plans to get a double major in business and data science and hopes to use data analytics to improve healthcare management systems to make hospitals more efficient.

Gomez has spent a lot of time in hospitals-- he was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2, a degenerative disease, at 18 months old. His family moved from Puerto Rico to Utah to get the medical treatments that would save his life. Many of the treatments he has received have led to a more nuanced understanding of the disease and a better prognosis for children born with it. 

From his experiences with his disease and from working with his brother, a professional athlete, and his friend, an Olympic trainer, Gomez became an expert on athletic performance and injury recovery. He began doling out advice to injured athletes in online forums and then creating exercise regimens for WJHS athletes.

Then Gomez was asked to help WJHS’s varsity quarterback who had torn his meniscus. Instead of surgery, the athlete followed the rest and exercise plan Gomez prescribed, and recovered to play out his senior season and be named MVP.

Gomez regularly advises student athletes and helps them recover from minor injuries. He is also the pole vaulting coach for the track team and his application of mathematics and kinesiology vaulted the team to the region championships this spring, where they won first and second place.

Gomez serves his school and community as a member of Latinos in Action, National Honors Society and as a math tutor for his peers. He said because he receives so much help, he wants to give back whenever he can.

“People are always helping me,” Gomez said. “Every day, at least 10 people help me out, from picking up my pencil that I dropped or filling up my water bottle—because I can't do those things. And so every day I get service and I feel like I want to pay back that service and so that's what I try to do every day when I coach and I tutor.”

WJHS students and staff have been the beneficiaries of his kindness.

“Januel is an outstanding person,” WJHS teacher Natalie Nielsen said. “He is always smiling, treats all his teachers and the students with the utmost respect, and he is honestly a joy to have in any classroom. His humble attitude and good heart will be missed when he graduates this year.”