By Nick Perenick
Luie Gomes is a 23-year-old graduate student at Springfield College. He goes to class, has many friends around campus, and wrestles. Sounds like your stereotypical member of the Pride wrestling team, right? But he’s not. Gomes has been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy since the day he was born, making him partially depend on a motorized wheelchair. Yet, he has never let his disability define him, or use his disability as an excuse. Instead, he uses it as a motivation tool for success. “Never Give Up” is the phrase he has tattooed on his chest and on the clothing he wears, as a constant reminder to himself and the world that his diagnosis doesn’t make him inept.
Gomes has always been a social person, starting with his first job in high school in a local supermarket, which he continues to this day. He has been a bright light in the College’s community for the past six years, and many of his friends are glad he returned this year, enrolled as a Public Health graduate student. Even today, his smile can always be seen beaming at Cheney, in the library, or even in the weight room.
Something that keeps Gomes so driven is his wrestling career, which began at the end of his time in high school. Growing up, he used a walker, which made him unable to keep up with regular team sports such as basketball and baseball with his friends. He did not take the traditional approach with the sport of wrestling, by training in his youth and progressing through high school, which was mostly due to his varsity coach telling him it would be impossible. If there’s anything a person should know about Gomes, it’s that that “i-word” does not exist in his vocabulary. “If I listened to what everybody said about me, I wouldn’t be able to tie my own shoes,” he said.
After persisting for quite a while, Gomes finally got a doctor’s note approved by the athletic director his senior year, landing him on the junior varsity wrestling team. Knowing he had great upper-body strength, he believed he could hang with the best and strongest grapplers on the mat. Gomes knew that there were many of his own teammates and coaches waiting for him to fail, which made him the first person in the gym and the last one out every single day since his first practice.
Springfield College Wrestling Coach Jason Holder knew of Gomes and his tenacious spirit since his arrival as a freshman. It took until after his second year to really strike it up with Gomes at Outdoor Pursuits, a course offered the week after finals at East Campus.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned about wrestling is resiliency. You deal with setbacks, losses, injuries and a lot of different things, but to have the ability to overcome that adversity is what the sport’s about,” said Holder. “And Luie just embodies that in his whole attitude towards life.”
Holder also notes that the wrestlers at school have gravitated to Gomes as a source of motivation for never giving up. His undying love for the sport and his special connection with the team has made for a great relationship. “He’s a part of our program,” Holder said.
Beyond the mats, Gomes has made his presence felt in the gym. Junior Christian Ginisi met Gomes through a mutual friend, and the two have begun talking more as Ginisi tries to chase a goal of losing weight. “He was a huge motivation for me to get in the gym and keep working toward my goals,” said Ginisi. “The fact that we text every day makes me feel better.” The two have an unbreakable relationship inside and outside out the gym in which they talk about family, school, and life. The wrestler does not hold Ginisi back from working out with him, and Ginisi even adapts workouts from Gomes as they feed off each other’s energy in the gym and to throughout the day. “It gives me a good perspective on another side of life. He deals with struggles we don’t think twice about, and it’s motivational for both of us,” said Ginisi.
While he always knew he could get a good workout in at the gym, there was some mystical energy about the mat that shut out the world for a while for Gomes. A kind of fiery, but calming energy that’s difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it.
Gomes has never won a wrestling match in 22 appearances. But by the way he works out every single day, one would think that Gomes is about to hop in the ring with John Cena at any moment. Every summer, New Britain High School in Conn. is the site of the Nutmeg State Games, where Gomes competes in the wrestling portion. He remembers the the defeat against a Division III college opponent from last year felt. Now he’s up at 6 a.m. every day, working before his opponents get a chance to start. As he counts down until the next Nutmeg Games, he has 20 weeks to prepare, and he’ll be using all 140 days to prepare for that opportunity to earn his first win. While that outcome sits in the future for now, his tenacity and spirit will help him through any goal in life.
Gomes is driven and motivated beyond the average 23 year old, and has his goals set on a job coaching wrestling, working as a motivational speaker, and even writing a book about his own journey in his postgraduate endeavors. Gomes already finds himself in the classroom speaking to students about his message of never giving up multiple times a month. Nothing can stop Gomes from being himself — not a disability or anybody lining up across the mat.
Photo courtesy Carolyn Trottier