High school track star Joel Gomez of Encinitas was honored Wednesday by city leaders, including Mayor Catherine Blakespear, for his international running exploits.
In December, the 16-year-old middle-distance runner was named Male Junior Para Athlete of the Year by USA Track & Field. His trophy was presented early in a City Council meeting (see video) — along with a certificate of recognition.
“If he continues to improve on his times and does well at the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials coming up in June, I’m confident that Joel could be named to Team USA and compete in Tokyo,” said Rich Robert of Irvine, chairman of the USATF Para Athletics Committee, who presented the award to Gomez in Encinitas.
Gomez accepted a trophy from the USATF Reno convention for what Robert called the teen’s bullet train season.
Gomez thanked the city for the honor, along with his parents — Carlos Gomez and Rynn Whitley-Gomez.
“It’s just been an amazing experience,” he said Wednesday.
The Trials are in Minneapolis and the 2020 Paralympic Games will be held Aug. 25 to Sept. 6 in Tokyo following the Olympic Games.
A junior at Classical Academy High School in Escondido, Gomez was born with Blue Cone Monochromacy, a rare genetic disease affecting the retina that is found almost exclusively in males.
The hereditary condition causes a loss of visual acuity, photophobia and myopia, which sometimes persists into adulthood. Since his early childhood, Gomez has had to wear custom-made glasses.
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A former Canyon Crest Academy standout, Gomez won a gold medal at the 2019 CIF State Track & Field Championships last summer and was named a High School All-American by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
(Gomez won All-American honors for his 53.37 victory in the 400-meter dash at the 2019 CIF State Championships, 1:59.30 in the 800 at the USATF Imperial Association Meet and 4:03.22 in the 1500 at the Parapan American Games.)
Gomez won two gold medals in the 400 and 1500 races (T11-13 combined classification) at the World Para Athletics Junior Championships in Nottwil, Switzerland.
He competed again for Team USA as part of the U.S. Parapan American Team in Lima, Peru, where he won the silver medal in the 1500 (T13). His performance in Lima earned him a spot on the U.S. World Para Athletics Championship Team, which competed in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where he finished 11th place in the T12/T13 combined class 1500 against the best in the world.
He is the second-youngest U.S. para athlete to compete on all three WPA Championships teams in one season.
Gomez has been ranked as high as No. 3 in the world in the men’s 1500 run in a combined “T12/T13” visual impairment classification competition.
Gomez, who turns 17 in August, is being coached by Brazil native Joaquim Cruz, the San Diegan who won a gold medal in the 800 at the 1984 Olympic Games.