It’s the type of comeback story movies are made about — an aging boxer gets knocked down, literally and figuratively, but refuses to stay down.
This “Hollywood” story is true, playing out in Central Oregon. It’s the comeback story of boxer Whitney “Hollywood” Gomez and her unlikely return to the ring.
“Her life is a bit different than the normal boxer. I mean, she has three children. She’s married. She works out during the day. She teaches classes, fitness classes and then she comes to practice at night again,” said boxing coach Richard Miller.
Whitney is the first female from Oregon to go to the Olympic Trials. This is a big deal. You know, it’s not like it’s not the district championship or the state championship. This is the to make the Olympic team.”
“Just to imagine being there and walking in the opening ceremonies and just that feeling and the energy. It sometimes is a super overwhelming feeling, but in a good way,” Gomez said.
It’s been four years since Gomez was boxing at the Olympic Trials in Louisiana, fighting to make the U.S. Olympic team before falling just short and having her lifelong dream shattered.
“Heartbreaking. Almost made me feel lost for a while,” Gomez said.
These days, life looks a little different for the now 36-year-old. There was an eight-year gap, but in 2021, she had her fourth child. At the end of 2022, she had surgeries on both her hips.
“Had to learn how to walk on the leg again and my glute muscles were shut off,” Gomez said. “A lot of tears. A lot of pain.”
Gomez went from boxer to teacher, sticking at home and homeschooling post-pandemic.
With the writing on the wall, she let her Olympic dreams die. Her hips and health forced her to hang up the gloves and transition into coach.
I asked her in April if it was over for good. She left the door cracked, but only barely.
“I don’t think I’m done, but I also am OK if that is what comes to be,” Gomez said then.
‘This is stupid. I’m boxing again’
But then, in June, driving home after a coaching session, Gomez had a change of heart.
“I just felt like, you know what? This is stupid. I’m boxing again. I can’t not have that be part of my life,” she said now.
She didn’t care that she was 36. She didn’t care that her hips weren’t cooperating or that everyone was going to tell her she couldn’t or was crazy. She decided that she didn’t want to be a former boxer. She wanted to be a current boxer,” Gomez said.
“I told Richard, if you’re on board and you’ll help me get ready, that’s what I want to do,” she said.
“I didn’t see it coming, but I’m not surprised by it either,” Miller said.
Cue the training montage
It’s one thing to say it, but it’s an entirely different thing to do it. Gomez was just two years removed from having her fourth baby, only seven months removed from those hip surgeries. She couldn’t squat. She couldn’t pivot. She’d gained weight and she wasn’t in boxing shape.
“At the beginning of June, I weighed 170 pounds. July, I was 160 pounds. So I still had like 15 pounds to lose,” Gomez said.
To make matters more difficult, she had only six weeks to train for a last-chance qualifier. It’s an event like the name suggests — the last chance to qualify for the Olympic Trials.
“I had to do cardio every day on top of boxing. You know, 4 to 5 days a week and strength training 4 to 5 days a week,” Gomez said.
“You only get so many chances in life. And if you don’t do it, if she didn’t do it, then three years from now, she’ll be regretting it,” Miller said.
“Hollywood” was back, and she wrote her Hollywood ending, punching her ticket to the Olympic Trials.
“If you had asked me four or five months ago, would I get to this point, I would have laughed in your face,” Gomez said.
She was already the first woman in Oregon to make it to the trials. Now, she’s the first to make it twice.
“It’s a feat in life that most boxers you don’t see, either male or female. I mean, there’s very few that do that,” Miller said. “What she overcame in the last four years. You know, she had two hip injuries, a neck injury. She had another child. And to come back from that, it’s quite the story.”
Win or lose, she’s already beat the odds and written a comeback story for the ages.
“I honestly thought I would never be able to get back to this point. My body would never let me,” Gomez said. “But it’s all about your mindset, right? You can have these huge stumbling blocks and these huge roadblocks in your way. But if you can change your mind, I swear you can just bulldoze them right out of the way.”
UPDATE: Whitney was defeated at the Olympic Trials Thursday night.
More than 500,000 people in the U.S. are homeless. They do not know where they will sleep tonight or if they will eat the next day. Break that down for Central Oregon and, on any given night, there are just under 2,000 people sleeping in the cold.
Dined in Sisters? Someone homeless may have served you.
Sisters, a gem of the High Desert, is known for big events like the annual Sisters Folk Festival, the internationally attended Outdoor Quilt Show and the Sisters Rodeo. The city has built, honed and protected its reputation as a western Camelot in the shadow of the Cascades.
“The Sisters Way is a uniqueness has to always harken back to what we have and what we’ve had in the past and make sure we don’t ruin that,” said Mayor Michael Preedin.
And the Sisters Way has little tolerance for anything that could disrupt the reputation that has taken decades to create.
“Not everybody really fits into a box of ‘This is what homelessness is,'” said Hanna, who is homeless and living in Sisters with her partner, Jeremy.
Hanna and Jeremy bought into the Sisters Way a different way. They are two of the dozens of local, full-time employees who help keep businesses there running and tourists fed. But at night, Hanna and Jeremy return to a trailer in the woods — as do more than 100 others in this town of 3,000.
Central Oregon Daily News is not revealing their identities. Not even their parents know they are homeless. And as Jeremy tells us, they know how most people in the town view them.
“‘If these people are homeless, they’re probably sketchy’ I feel like kind of gets people not even being able to get jobs around here,” Jeremy said.
If you’ve been to the historic Sno Cap Drive-In, you’ve probably seen Hanna and Jeremy. They serve thousands of ice cream cones all summer. They flip burgers and bag fries. The Sno Cap is one of the few businesses in Sisters that recognizes the value and reliability of the homeless population. In fact, their boss also returns to a tent in the woods after clocking out each night.
“We know people who make your sandwiches at Subway, people who make your burgers, people who serve your coffee,” Hanna said.
“They do want to get on their feet. It’s just really not the easiest,” Jeremy said.
This couple’s fate turned when their life savings was wiped out in a rental scam. They let their guard down and $5,000 slipped away when they became desperate to find housing once they found out Hanna was due with a baby girl in January.
“They drained everything we had,” Hanna said.
“And that’s where it started to go downhill is trying to make that savings again and to be able to actually get into somewhere,” Jeremy said.
Despite the obvious value many of these “People in the Woods” as they’re called here in Sisters, the city has struggled to give back.
“Expecting the cooperation was naïve on our part,” said Lou Blanchard with the Sisters Cold Weather Shelter.
Cold weather shelter denied
Winter is returning to the woods and despite another effort by one of Sisters’ most persistent non-profits to create a cold weather shelter, the mayor and city council did not see a good fit.
Blanchard is a member of that board, spending hours each day connecting with and providing services to Sisters’ homeless in the woods. His Sisters Cold Weather Shelter non-profit submitted a proposal to the city for a shelter that could have been up and running before the first snowfall. It put a contract on a building, received more than $1 million in state grants to buy, renovate and run the shelter in a light industrial complex.
The city council and staff all appeared to be on the same page — at first.
“Yes, I would say we were baited and switched, yeah,” Blanchard said.
The effects of that decision would reverberate from one end of the county to the other. It’s the second time a shelter has been turned down by the City of Sisters, leading Blanchard and his Cold Weather Shelter board to wonder if any accommodating the homeless here is an affront to this town’s seemingly spotless reputation.
“We were able to get our full funding — $1.58 million. That’s a lot of money for a small community like this. At this point in time, because we can’t meet those milestones, that funding is gone,” Blanchard said. “An entity like ours, we can’t even seem to get an office space rented in the city without people getting in an uproar.”
When the City of Sisters first denied the proposal for that cold weather shelter back in September, their findings were filled with all kinds of hypotheticals — things like a lack of law enforcement, if needed; the possibility of vandalism of the businesses nearby; the idea that the shelter would morph into something different.
Then, there was a favorite hypothetical of communities just beginning to grapple with the issue of homelessness: if you build it, people experiencing homelessness will come — and they will come in numbers that will overwhelm the city.
But is that the case?
“This is a very common belief among local governments and local communities, but I do not believe there is any data or analysis that substantiates that belief,” said Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Chang.
More than 2/3 of local homeless were already living in Central Oregon
In fact, the latest homeless Point in Time count shows more than 80% of all homeless in the region are long-time Central Oregonians. More than two-thirds became homeless while living in the communities where they remain today.
What kind of partner does Chang feel Sisters has been in accommodating the homeless population that is their part of this crisis?
“I think the City of Sisters has really struggled to reconcile the fact that … they have one of the highest concentrations of homelessness in the entire county,” Chang said. “Some of those people are members of the Sisters community. They work in local restaurants or local grocery stores.”
When someone here just can’t take the cold another night, where do they go? To shelters in Redmond and Bend. Those non-profits will tell you the largest number of non-locals using their services are coming from Sisters.
“That’s hard on our service providers and it’s hard on our budgets,” said Bend Mayor Melanie Kebler. “We budget for a certain amount and we’re seeing not 80 people but 100 people or more every night. And they try not to turn anyone away but they’re getting to the point where they’re starting to have to turn folks away or say we are full.”
‘A strong partner’
Too full for families like Kelly’s. The mother of three young boys lives year-round in a trailer until they can save up enough to afford something better.
“We woke up one day and realized that we own nothing except for our cars and we were paying $3,000 a month to live in a bad neighborhood. And I didn’t even want my kids to go to school there,” Kelly said.
Both Kelly and her husband work multiple jobs in sisters. Kelly’s three young boys are in sisters schools, on the school wrestling and baseball teams.
The city is convinced it’s doing all it can for families like hers.
“We like to think of ourselves as a strong partner and a convener of a lot of these conversations. Obviously without larger budgets and more staff it’s harder to be more than that. We’re certainly not in the business of actually running shelters or anything,” said Preedin.
No city in Central Oregon runs its own shelter. They all rely on non-profits, close partnerships and an urgency to at least begin to address the crisis.
“We don’t want to wait until someone freezes to death in the woods or a fire starts or we have more people who are living in really unsafe conditions. We need to tackle it with some urgency,” Kebler said.
Funding turned down
The funny thing is, no one has asked the City of Sisters for a dime. Every effort to accommodate the homeless here has been on the backs of volunteers, through federal and state grants and through emergency funding — most of which the mayor and council have turned down.
That has left couples like Josh and Andrea frozen in place.
“When it got real cold not that long ago, the mattress literally froze to the wall,” said Josh.
The couple has spent the last three years in the woods, graduating from a small tent to a 1980s Chevy sedan to a 30-year-old motorhome. They live on Josh’s small disability check and whatever volunteer groups in Sisters can provide. Like so many out here, their biggest concern is the cold.
“I will say the cold is a constant. Because of my disability, it hurts to be cold. It takes a lot of energy from morning to night to stay warm when this stays about 60 degrees in there,” Andrea said, pointing to the RV.
And winter has yet to arrive.
Sisters focusing on affordable housing
Out of sight, out of mind. Few if any visitors to this western-themed enclave will ever know that part of what makes this community tick is dependent on volunteers for survival and the National Forest for shelter.
So why mess with the Sisters Way?
“Because it is a sign of a failed community that so many people who are part of the Sisters workforce, part of the family fabric of that community are living in substandard conditions,” Chang said.
“The highest concentration of homelessness in all of Deschutes County exists right there in Sisters,” he continued. “There will come a time when people recognize that it is a reflection upon their community that this condition exists amongst them.”
What Sisters has focused on in the last year has been affordable housing — millions of dollars between American Rescue Plan funds and state emergency grants.
Affordable housing is a real need in Sisters as home and rental prices there rival those in Bend and Redmond. But it’s not helping those who might just need a shower, a warm meal, laundry or a warm place to lay their head when the forest freezes once again.
The Bend Christmas Parade is Saturday, kicking off at noon sharp. The annual tradition has grown thanks to organizers and volunteers, past and present.
“In 1992, we became involved in the parade,” said longtime former organizer Gaye Gilpin. “We had not as many entries of course, in that time period. But now we have 100.”
“Ironically, until I got involved, I had actually never been to the parade, which is a little crazy,” said Michael Sipe, Chairman of the Bend Christmas Parade Volunteer Committee. “My wife had been to the parade. Our kids have been to the parade. Our grandkids have been to the parade. I’d never been to the parade. It’s just like this huge festive street party. People are in such great spirits.
“It brings everybody together in a really just wonderful community,” said parade publicist Dina Barker.
“People said they’ve they’ve been going to the parade since they were little and now they’re bringing their own kids,” Gilpin said.
“I think that the the parade is really one of the hallmark events of Central Oregon and certainly of Bend. It’s an event that people look forward to every year,” Sipe said.
“And it makes everybody feel part of Bend and part of Central Oregon because they come from all over,” Barker said.
Sipe says there’s about 10,000 to 20,000 people who watch the parade every year.
“I think that it’s important to know that there’s about 150, 160 volunteers that it takes to put on the parade. So the parade committee of people who love this event is huge. It’s extraordinary,” Sipe said.
“It just feels really good and really rewarding. Personally to be part of that,” Barker said.
“There’s no agenda other than to have a great time, celebrate the Christmas season, celebrate the reason for the season. And so it’s just a big friendly get-together of our city that happens once a year in a very, very special way,” Sipe said.
“All your worries go out the door, you know, for the time you’re at the parade. I hope it continues forever. I mean, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t, you know?” Gilpin said.
If you’ve seen parkour on television or social media, you may think its just an activity for high-level athletes to run and jump on and off of stuff. And if you think you’re too old or too young to take on the crazy sport, a place in Bend that bills itself as Central Oregon’s only parkour gym may have you thinking again
You see, parkour can have practical applications for anyone’s life.
For those not initiated, what is parkour?
“Think of what Tarzan does,” Abstract in Motion gym owner Eric Corrales said. “Being a monkey in the urban environment.”
Football is family. It’s a phrase coaches and players at all levels have said at one time or another.
Those words hit a little differently for Summit High School senior quarterback Jimmy Hughes.
“I am really happy. It’s been a lot of fun,” Jimmy said.
He arrived in Bend only four months ago, moving from Novato, California, a small town north of San Francisco that’s a nearly 500-mile drive from Bend. He quickly became the Storm’s starting quarterback.
“It’s a very similar situation. And I’m happy to be part of this family,” Jimmy said.
Senior year of high school in a new state at a new school with a new team. A team that, by the way, is defending its state 5A football championship.
You might think that’s got to be tough for any kid. But when Jimmy arrived on campus, there were already three familiar faces on the roster.
Enter Kallon and Holden Booher and Charlie Kroll.
All seniors. All are originally from Novato, California. And all used to play sports with Jimmy.
“So my brother and I moved to Bend in fifth grade from Novato, California,” Holden said.
“And then Charlie came to visit us, sixth or seventh grade,” Kallon said.
“So I moved to Bend in July of 2018 from Novato, California, which is where they all came from, too,” Charlie said.
“I got to fit in really. They introduced me to their friends and it was perfect. It was a perfect scenario,” Jimmy said.
The families aren’t related. There’s no Novato-Band exchange program we know about. It’s strictly coincidental that the three families ended up in the same town at the same high school.
“It’s been really fun to have him back. He just fits in with us and is really good at football, too, so it works out,” Kallon said.
And what makes it even more surreal is that the boys played sports together back in elementary school.
“I played soccer with Holden and Kallon, I think it was spring. And then in the winter, I played basketball with Charlie,” Jimmy said.
From the pitch in elementary school to the gridiron in high school, the Novato teammates hope to recreate their childhood success one more time.
“Having a crew from Novato, California, where they’ve all grown up together, is pretty unique,” said Summit head football coach Corben Hyatt. “It’s funny that they all found their way to Summit. It is unique in the fact that they were all soccer players in elementary school together, and now they’re football players at Summit High School in Bend, Oregon, is pretty awesome.
Friendships have translated into team chemistry and Jimmy, Holden, Kallon and Charlie, along with the rest of the team, have the Storm on the brink of back-to-back state titles.
“I’m very confident in our team. I think we have built a really strong bond. We have a really strong team and I’m really excited for this Friday,” Jimmy said.
“I think our ceiling is still above us,” Coach Hyatt said.
Summit visits the Wilsonville Wildcats Friday night in the Oregon 5A semifinals. The Storm defeated Wilsonville for the championship last year.
Summit’s cross-town rivals Mountain View will play in the other semifinal, also Friday, at Silverton. It sets up for a possible all-Bend championship game next week.
But Larry’s trips to trek weren’t just for fun. Shortly before his first visit, he connected with Ten Friends, a Sisters non-profit working to improve the lives of the Nepali people. He’s now on the organization’s board.
“You can put a headstone, but that doesn’t do anybody any good essentially. But you can put up a library in somebody’s memory and that library is sort of an extension of that person in some sense,” Weinberg said.
Last month, he traveled to Khokatok for the unveiling. Dedicating the library in the memory of his parents, brother and a relative of the Nepalese individual connected to the Himalayan Education Center.
Before the unveiling, the library had to first get to the remote village, a challenging task.
“From Khandabari to Num is the jeep road from hell,” he said.
No Amazon Prime delivery either.
“It took 20 men with the poles and this cabinet being supported, physically carried to this town, then the books had to get the same treatment,” Weinberg said.
Thanks to the work Larry did stateside leading up to the trip, the village could host the dedication ceremony.
“You think of like sharks having a feeding frenzy, well these kids were having a book frenzy,” he said.
He says watching the village celebrate was an experience as rewarding as walking through the country’s mountain ranges full of 8,000 meters peaks.
“Just to see the looks on the kids faces,” he said. “You do good and you feel good, and ya hike and you feel better… Hopefully, a seed has been planted in that village that will grow.”
Want to hear more about Larry’s travels to Nepal, including a return trip to an orphanage?
You’re in luck!
Larry will be giving a talk Friday, Nov. 17, at the Deschutes Public Library’s main branch in downtown Bend beginning at 10 a.m.
You can find more information about the upcoming talk here.
At age 86, Jim Crowell may seem like an unlikely athlete to bring home the gold. But Jim has a passion for shooting the basketball and he proves every day that age is just a number.
“It’s good for people at that stage of their life because they all know, especially guys in my category, they all know that it doesn’t last forever,” said Jim.
“I shoot an average of five times a week,” he said. “Either really early in the morning at the college or here during the school year when the kids aren’t here in the morning.
“I’m just another basketball junkie, that’s all.”
Jim’s love of the game brought him to the Huntsman World Senior Games in Saint George, Utah, last month. It’s 11,000 athletes over the age of 50. They come from 34 countries, competing from 29 different sports including basketball, volleyball, golf, mountain biking, soccer, running, swimming and more.
The senior games veteran took home two gold medals. Jim won both shooting contests for ages 85-89. One was for the combined free throw and 3-point competition. The other was for Hot Shot, which consists of taking six shots in different spots on the court in a specific time limit.
“It’s not the score I want, and I was 21-for-25 free throws and four-for-six three-pointers,” Jim said. “I do better than that. A lot of times in the morning, but there’s no pressure here when I’m alone.”
Basketball has played a role in Jim’s life for years, and in the very same gym — Jan Ward Gymnasium — where he practices now.
“It was a four-team grade school league in Bend and this was the gymnasium,” he said. “I started in here that small and played all the way through high school and then played at COCC my freshman year and then played half a year at Boise.”
If it wasn’t for him and former Bend graduates, the gym now used by the Boys and Girls Club probably wouldn’t be there.
“This building was in horrible condition and the school district … they wanted to get rid of the thing. And some of us who graduated from Bend High School decided, ‘No, it’s one of Bend’s most historic buildings,’ built in 1918 as a private athletic club. So we took it upon ourselves to save it,” Jim said.
It was not only saved but restored and used as a nonprofit.
“There’s a new Boys and Girls Club in Bend that needs the place,” Jim said. “The process had to be nonprofit. The school district deeded it to the Bend Parks and Recreation, and their name is over there for a 50-year lease option at a dollar a year with the second 50-year option at the end of the first 50 years.”
From first grade to the present day, Jim continues to put up shots.
“How lucky can one guy get at 86 to be able to come up to his old high school gym and shoot the ball every day?” Crowell asked. “I mean, that just doesn’t happen most of the time.”
It’s a gym that has his name on mid-court for everyone to see — Crowell-Scott Court — and an 86-year-old with a strong passion for the game.
“I know what they’re doing early in the morning,” he said. “They’re out there doing the same thing I am. So if I don’t get out of bed and go shoot, then the next time over, I’m going to get killed.”
Every day, every morning, a motivation to get out of bed and practice. Jim proves when it comes to age, you can still go out and compete and maybe even bring home a few medals along the way.
“It’s one of those things,” he said, “How much time good time do I have left? And if I’ve got a few more years, why waste time? I’ll just go and do it. Because it’s a kick. That’s all there is to it.”
The Central Oregon Symphony has been performing for local music lovers for more than a half century, but many Central Oregonians still don’t know that the symphony exists.
At 7:00 p.m. on a fall Monday night, the Central Oregon Symphony prepares for one of their final rehearsals for an upcoming concert. A hodgepodge mishmash of sounds and squeaks can be heard as dozens of musicians arrive and begin tuning their instruments.
After a few quick words, conductor Michael Gesme me raises his baton and the orchestra launches into its first number.
Gesme’s passion is on full display.
“You don’t have to give up the Beatles to accept Beethoven,” Gesme said, explaining that it was a graduate school professor that told him that line. And he encourages non-classical music lovers to take that attitude and come check out the symphony.
“I knew that I wanted to do music since I was about this tall,” Gesme said, holding his palm about two feet off the ground. “This was my first job. This has been my only job.”
“What I love the most … I love rehearsal. I love saying, ‘OK, that was what happened. Now let’s work on it. How can we make this better?’ I love pulling things apart and putting them back together.
“There will just never be anything of the magic when something is right for the first time in a rehearsal and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s the hole in one.'”
Gesme has been the conductor at Central Oregon Symphony for 28 years. He’s witnessed the orchestra grow right alongside the community.
“It basically has mimicked the growth in Central Oregon,” Gesme said. “The quality of which we are able to perform. The music, I think has has steadily increased year over year.”
But there are many people that call Central Oregon home that still don’t know the symphony exists.
“That’s probably the single most frequent, ‘I didn’t even know we had a symphony in town,'” Gesme said.
He strives to change that and to make the performances accessible, both on the music front and on the wallet front.
“The mission that we’ve had as long as I can remember, which is that our concerts are free.” Gesme said.
“I think it’s something where I want anybody who knows nothing to feel exceptionally comfortable because that’s who it’s for. And then once you know something, you’re going to build on that. You’re going to come back and you’re going to build on that and then hopefully potentially introduce you to a whole new set of music that you may not otherwise have heard or maybe you’ve heard it a dozen times, you didn’t even know what it was.”
And if you’re still not sold, just remember — you don’t have to give up the Beatles to accept Beethoven.
“My hope is that it will be not what they expect,” Gesme said. “Most people expect a symphony concert is going to be a stuffy, ‘I think I need to know everything about this before I go’ kind of event, and that is not how we do business.
The Central Oregon Symphony holds their large fall, winter and spring concert performances at Bend Senior High School, but they also have many additional performances throughout the year at varying venues. For a full schedule of upcoming concerts head to cosymphony.com.