Marina Gomez of Wichita, KS has been a gymnast since she was just 4-years-old. In 2012 and 2013 she won consecutive gold medals at the Junior Olympic National Championship in competitive trampoline. Marina was looking forward to a long gymnastics career but after she was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis (JA) in 2013, her gymnastics career was cut short.
Marina’s first time competing at the Junior Olympic National Championship in 2012, she won gold in her event. Marina was training at least 18 hours a week and pushing her body to the limits. Shortly after returning home from her first competitive season, she tore her Achilles tendon and was out of training for almost five months.
In her time off, Marina started to notice other aches, pains and swelling. Most significantly, her hands looked like claws, clenched and swollen, when she would wake up in the morning. In the final doctor appointment for her Achilles injury, Marina was given approval to return to practice. She showed her doctor her hands and he knew something else was wrong. Shortly thereafter, Marina was diagnosed with JA.
Just two weeks after her JA diagnosis, Marina went to a competitive gymnastics meet and placed second. Marina continued to compete and in the summer of 2013 won silver and gold again at the Junior Olympic National Championship. The morning of the championship, her feet and ankles were the size of melons but after making it that far, she knew she had to compete.
Marina continued to compete in 2014 but did not make it to the National Championship. She decided she could not compete anymore, the pain was too great. Marina continued to train for fun because of the passion she has for gymnastics. “My coaches didn’t want me to quit because I had so much talent,” says Marina. “But, they realized how much pain I must have been in when I was serious about not competing anymore.”
Now, age 18, Marina has found other passions. She coaches gymnastics and inspires many young girls to reach for the gold. Marina graduated high school in May and is going to college, she wants a career that she can help people and make a difference in their lives.
Marina and her mother, Kathy, became involved with the Arthritis Foundation shortly after Marina’s diagnosis. Now, they participate in many events and Kathy is a member of the Wichita Leadership Board. Marina has been a camp counselor at the Arthritis Foundation JA Camp, Camp Joint Adventures for two years, one of her favorite activities. It’s a place she says everyone with arthritis can feel normal. “I’m grateful to the Arthritis Foundation for helping me find my voice and inspiring me to help others,” says Marina.