Growing up, I was often overlooked. Mostly, due to the fact I had a nationally recruited sister who was normally on the same team as me. I had to rely on my work-ethic and hustle to find my way onto the high school varsity team as a freshman.

The following summer, I kicked it into high gear. Every day, my sister and I would run a couple miles and head to the gym to work on ball-handling and get in our 500+ shots. The hard-work paid off. When sophomore year came around, I was one of the first guards off the bench. My role was to come in to defend and rebound well.

When junior year rolled around, it was sister-sister action. My sister had no problem dropping dimes or scoring the ball, and I’d often finish with ten or more boards a game. I vividly remember one game in particular, I played a 6’3” post who averaged 25 points per game and was nationally ranked. I limited her to 10 points, on this day I went off for 18 points and 15 rebounds. My job was to keep her off the boards and making it hard on her to score, and I did that. But, to make things better, we won in double overtime. To this day, I consider that game my greatest basketball memory, by far.

After high school, I went on to play at California State University, San Bernardino, on a full-ride athletic scholarship. I spent two seasons at CSUSB before I felt like I needed to make a change, both athletically and academically. So, unable to find the right home by the end of the school year, I returned home for a year to work on finding a new school to attend the next year. However, on October 30, 2016, my life changed forever.

Lili Gomez dribbling a basketball.
Photo Courtesy of San Diego State Athletics.

While I was heading to San Bernardino to hangout with friends, an irresponsible and distracted driver hit me on the freeway. Struck on the front passenger side wheel well, the impact sent me into two full-circle spins. The force of the crash caused me hit the median on the freeway and sent me spinning. My car came to a stop facing oncoming traffic, where I was impacted a second time.

My life flashed before my eyes and, for a moment, I lost consciousness. I was stuck inside the car, alone and scared, unsure what had just taken place. The next thing I knew, a good samaritan, who happened to be a nurse, attempted to open the door. It didn’t work. Minutes later, gasping for help and unable to move my legs, I heard the creaking jaws of life slowly beginning to pry my door open. Today, as I sit and reflect on the crash, my heart races faster than you can imagine and I still tremble.

Following the accident, I was taken out of school for six months. In that time, I experienced a loss of identity and hope, and began to contemplate life. At the time, I had just left CSUSB and was attempting to transfer elsewhere to continue my basketball career. I hadn’t yet found that place. To me, it seemed nearly impossible I’d find a home for the coming season.

I remember one night, in particular, I rented a hotel room and brought my dog with me. I had plans to end my life; end it all. I didn’t think I was valuable anymore. The pain I felt inside was unbearable. It was my plan to overdose on all of the drugs I was put on after the accident. I had five bottles of muscle relaxers, pain reducers and a narcotic beside my bed. As I sat on the hotel bedside listening to the water run in the bathtub, I began calculating the number of pills it would take to methodically take away my pain, permanently. I wasn’t sure of the success rate, but I hoped it would stop the pain.

That night, my sister sent a friend to find me. And, she did find me. To me, that was a sign. My sister’s friend reached me just as I was pulling my stuff together to act on my plans. My sister knew the pain I was going through and, due to her inability to physically save me herself, had the mental capability to meet me where I was at and help steer me away.

I didn’t sleep that night. I was trying to figure out why I felt unwanted. What could I do to feel special? And, why did God send my sister’s friend to save me? After pondering this event multiple times over, I realized God sent them because I’m valuable.

That night I began to envision my going forward, being joyous, full of love and laughter, all the while vacationing exotic beaches. I promised myself that the next day, I’d make a small step toward a greater life. A life full of happiness, gratitude and resilience toward anything that life threw at me.

In response, I continued to work on my game every day. I was determined to never give up and, thankfully, the San Diego State University coaches decided to take a chance on me and allow me to be part of the team.

Lili Gomez defending the ball-handler on the perimeter.
Photo Courtesy of San Diego State Athletics.

The mere idea of being able to play the game again is the reason I practice gratitude every day. When something you love so much and have worked your entire life for is taken away from you, you gain more passion and gratitude than ever before. I constantly worked on my game without knowing where my future was headed, and when I got accepted into SDSU and experienced the open love from the coaching staff, it felt like I had summited a huge mountain. To me, it just serves as a reminder to never settle or draw complacent. Resilience and persistence is the key to any successful journey.

Now, I know that the traumas and tragedies I endured was because God was leading me to a better place. He put me in situations that removed me from people and environments that weren’t going to help me. He said, “No more. You can do better.”

From that point forward, I put my love of basketball and any future opportunities in God’s hands. I prayed day-in and day-out, and God heard my prayers. He blessed me with an amazing opportunity to walk-on at San Diego State University. Yet, once I got there, I knew I couldn’t be complacent. In fact, I sometimes had two or three more individual workouts after practice because I wasn’t satisfied. I refused to let anyone be better than me. As a kid, my mom always told me, “Be the best today!” And, that’s what I always strive to be.

Today, I’m in my second season at SDSU and I finally earned a full-ride scholarship to play on the team. The journey to get to a scholarship was not an easy one. I spent many nights shooting in the gym that would end in tears, asking God, “Why not me? Why am I working so hard with no reward.” But I realized, He wouldn’t let me work this hard if He didn’t have a plan. And maybe, it isn’t for basketball.

Maybe He is teaching me to work hard so that I can implement that work-ethic later in life, in other ways. Or maybe I am here to be an example, to show others not to give up. Then, as I sat there, I realized: It is all in His hands. He knows my plan. And as long as I give all the glory and faith to Him, He can not steer me wrong. My story is just the process of me falling in love with, and truly believing in Him.

“You have been set apart as holy to the Lord your God, and he has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be his own special treasure.” – Deuteronomy 14:2 (NLT)

In other words, I have been chosen and set apart. He chose us all for different reasons, but I know He wouldn’t let me work so hard if He didn’t have a plan.

-Loli Gomez

Loli Gomez is a senior NCAA Division I Basketball player at San Diego State University.

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