//Cover Stories

Juliana Gomez: The Beginning of Winning

Reaching a breakthrough as a fencer, Julianna Gomez tells The GAME about her journey in the sport and the purpose that fuels her passion.

Juliana Gomez is forging her own path.

Whether you know her as the daughter of well-known actors or as a social media star, the fact of the matter is that Juliana Gomez is much more than what meets the eye, and if one thing in her life proves this fact well, it’s her journey as an athlete.

Although headlines have captured different milestones in her life, as she is a figure in the public eye, over the last few months, the headlines about Juliana have all been reading the same thing: Juliana has been winning medals for fencing.

Last year, Juliana made waves after donning the Philippine flag and winning medals in fencing in various international competitions around Asia, including two back-to-back medals in Thailand and Indonesia. And most recently, she made an impact by becoming the University of the Philippines’ lone gold medalist for fencing in Season 85 of the UAAP.

“This is really just the beginning of me blossoming into a better fencer,” she tells The GAME.

But apart from the medals and the accolades that she hopes to achieve in her sport, what fencing has given her and what she hopes to give back go much deeper than that.

Juliana Gomez for The GAME Halftime Cover April 2023
Picking up the blade

After Juliana Gomez won her recent UAAP Season 85 gold medal for fencing, she posted a celebratory photo on Instagram with a caption that read, “Two years in the making.”

But what most people may not know is that she actually started fencing much earlier than two years ago — she actually started as a kid. Her dad was a national team fencer himself, and so she took after him growing up.

When she was in high school, however, she discovered a different passion. “For a brief moment in time, I used to be a volleyball player,” she looks back. And this is a passion that she carried with her until college.

Entering her dream school, the University of the Philippines as a Public Administration student in 2019, she pursued her interest in volleyball. “I was lucky enough to be able to join the UP women’s volleyball team. I was part of Team B during my freshman year.”

The GAME Halftime puts rising fencing star Juliana Gomez in the spotlight for April 2023.

That year, Juliana admitted that she was “dead-set on volleyball,” even aiming to become part of UP’s first six on the UAAP team. But, in the same year, the Philippines hosted the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, and she had a re-encounter with the sport she first fell in love with.

“I saw the Philippine [fencing] team, they were producing medals for the country, and I got really inspired by that because I knew these people growing up.”

But a year later, the pandemic hit. And, like most athletes, she had to stop playing volleyball, prompting a moment of reflection for Juliana.

“I realized that I didn’t set very big goals for myself, I was just kind of being present, doing what I had to do,” she admits.

Juliana felt that there was no better time to realize this. While the country still followed restrictions during the pandemic, one of the few sports that were accessible to her was fencing, as it is not considered a contact sport.

And ever since she made her return back into the sport, she hasn’t looked back.

Juliana Gomez for The GAME Halftime Cover April 2023
Trust the process

Over the last few months, Juliana Gomez has been making headlines, winning medals in other countries and on home soil. And while these are incredible feats to celebrate, Juliana reflects on the many struggles and hardships she had to face in order to get to this point, because it was anything but smooth sailing the entire time.

“You know when people say, ‘started from the bottom, and then now we’re here’? I wouldn’t say that I’m there yet, but I definitely know what the bottom feels like,” Juliana reflects.

Looking back at her experiences as an athlete, the rising star shared that when she was on UP’s volleyball Team B, she did not get the chance to play, even during training. “We were picking up balls, taking stats for Team A. It was part of the process.”

But it wasn’t just her brief stint in UP’s volleyball team that was a struggle. Her first years after coming back to fencing were also a challenge for her.

Juliana Gomez for The GAME Halftime Cover April 2023

Sitting down with The GAME, Juliana Gomez showed an Instagram photo that she had posted in October 2022 with the caption, “Trust the process.”

“This was my two-year mark in fencing. I’ve been competing. I hadn’t won anything, I hadn’t done anything. I was just fencing, I just kept training.”

With this, she expressed that she felt disappointed in herself for not being able to see results right away. “I had such a hard time accepting that I worked so hard but my work wasn’t bearing any fruits. So what am I working towards? I had nothing that was keeping me going, so I just had to really have faith in whatever plan there was for me because I feel like this dream was put in my heart for a reason.”

And in keeping with her own words, she did trust the process.

Juliana Gomez for The GAME Halftime Cover April 2023
Reaching a breakthrough

Eventually, Juliana Gomez reached a point in her fencing career where her hours, months, and years of hard work started to come together to bring her the success she craved.

Late in 2022, she won her first-ever gold medal in the Thailand Open Fencing Championship, and just a month later, she again won a gold medal in the West Java Fencing Challenge in Indonesia to cap off the year. She quickly came into 2023 with a silver medal from the Southeast Asian Fencing Federation Championships in Malaysia.

And most recently, she added a gold medal from Season 85 the UAAP in February — UP’s lone gold medal for fencing — to her growing collection.

“[Winning the UAAP gold medal] was an emotional win for me because prior to it being my first local gold medal, it was two years of losing, not even making a podium finish,” she reflects. “So for the first time, it felt like everything that I worked for in the two years of fencing, everything that I’ve learned from my coaches — it all synced in and it all came out when it mattered the most.

Juliana Gomez for The GAME Halftime Cover April 2023

“I can say that the work worked, truly.”

Juliana Gomez reflecting on her UAAP gold medal win.

And she isn’t done yet. “[Winning more medals for UP] is my priority right now, especially since UP has given me so much,” she tells The GAME. “I am so incredibly lucky, so the least I can do is win the gold medals, repay that with hardware.”

Juliana Gomez for The GAME Halftime Cover April 2023
Still a student

Juliana admits that seeing her hard work pay off was very satisfying, especially for a student-athlete still balancing multiple aspects of her life into her schedule.

As a fencer, Juliana trains nearly every day of the week, from Mondays to Saturdays. And on top of this, she balances time for everything else in her life — her family, friends, studies, and personal time.

It sounds incredibly busy, and Juliana agreed. “But I love it,” she expresses. “I’ll never be this busy again. I’m graduating soon, so I’m just embracing it…The work is challenging, but I like the challenge.”

Juliana Gomez for The GAME Halftime Cover April 2023

Although she is still a student, it’s difficult to ignore the maturity that Juliana exhibits as athlete, even in the way she interacts with her fencing teammates.

“As much as possible, I like to stick to fencing when we’re in the fencing hall just because if you only have three hours together in a day, and training isn’t every day for the UP team, I feel like it’s good to be productive and to make it count.”

With everything she has to balance on her plate, she makes sure to stay focused when she’s training to make the most out of the hours she spends in the fencing hall, especially as she keeps her dreams and big goals in mind.

Juliana Gomez for The GAME Halftime Cover April 2023
Dreaming big

Juliana Gomez did not shy away from asserting the goals that she holds for herself as a fencer.

“My biggest goal would be becoming an Olympian to represent the Philippines on the Olympic stage,” she says with confidence.

As far as goals go, for an athlete, it doesn’t get much bigger than the Olympics. And as she works towards this ultimate dream, Juliana has other goals on the horizon that she is training for.

Juliana revealed that she is currently trying to qualify for the 2025 SEA Games in Thailand, with the qualifying tournament to start next year.

“I want to be part of the national team. I want to be able to represent my country in the SEA Games, in the Asian Games. I think these are attainable goals.”

At only 22 years old, it is evident that she knows what she wants. And her dreams are not simply abstract, either — they are concrete goals that bring her back to the fencing hall, six days a week.

“I’m so big on this goal-setting thing because I believe that it’s what got me here,” she shares.

“Knowing what you want gives you direction and it allows you to change every aspect of your life, down to the friends that you keep, the people you expose yourself to, and the kind of work that you put in.”

Juliana on the importance of goal-setting.

Over the past two years of her journey in fencing, this is what has kept Juliana grounded. Even amidst the losses, defeats, and struggles, she persevered, sticking with the direction she committed herself to. And now, with the wins and victories she has been able to celebrate, she knows she is on the right path.

As Juliana strives for her personal goals, however, she still stresses the immense value that she’s found in surrounding herself with the right people to push her forward in her path.

The company she keeps

Even when she started fencing as a kid, Juliana Gomez was fortunate to have been surrounded by many good role models in her sport, so much so that she could not pinpoint just one specific person whom she looks up — she looks up to the entire community as a whole, from the coaches down to the kids in the sport.

“I feel like with the abundance of good role models that I was exposed to when I started fencing, it’s really what pushed me to want more out of the sport, to want more out of what I could give during every training session,” she shares.

And because she was lucky to have many people in the fencing community whom she can look up to, this is what Juliana wants to be herself — a role model.

“I really just want to be a good role model to my teammates, especially to the younger fencers that I train with,” she says. “I would hate for the process to look easy because it’s not. So I think that having good role models in this young team is very important.”

Juliana Gomez together with the UP Fencing Team for The GAME Halftime April 2023.
Passion driven by purpose

Hearing Juliana’s stories and learning about her journey as an athlete — from falling in love with fencing to taking a sidestep to explore a different sport, and from getting back into fencing to winning consecutive medals in the sport — has truly given her wisdom beyond her years.

And in the process, not only did she unlock a new side of who Juliana Gomez really is, but she also discovered her own kind of mark that she hopes to leave as an individual along the way.

“It was hard for me to figure out,” she admits, reflecting on the purpose she was searching for. “I took the time in my two years to figure out what I’m fencing for. Am I just doing it to get more physically fit or to distract myself from say the hardships of school? It’s hard, it took me a while to find answers, and for the longest time, I didn’t know what I was doing. I can’t say that I always had a purpose.”

But, as she did in her growth as an athlete, she trusted the process, and somewhere along the line, the confusion eventually transformed into clarity.

“I don’t just want to be inspiring as a good fencer, because I don’t even see myself as a good fencer yet. I just want to be able to inspire people in such a way that I want them to be able to acknowledge their purpose and set goals for themselves…Just to be able to identify what you want out of whatever it is you’re doing — I want to teach other people that.”

“I’ll do something if I feel like a little girl will see it and say, ‘I want to be like that person,’ not necessarily as a fencer, but just to be someone who works hard.”

Juliana Gomez on the impact she wants to make.

Sittings Editor JAMES CRUZ
Shoot Coordination TONI MENDOZA
Shot on Location UP Diliman College of Human Kinetics

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