At 33 years old, Boston Red Sox outfielder and 2013 World Series champion Jonny Gomes has already faced more tragedy than many people will experience in their lifetimes.
At the age of 16, Gomes lost a coin toss to his best friend, Adam Westcott, over who would get to sit in the front seat during a drive. When the car crashed, Westcott sustained minor injuries, and his friend was killed. (Later, Gomes honored Westcott by having his friend's initials tattooed on his right bicep.)
Five years later, in 2002, Gomes suffered a heart attack due to a clogged artery. The incident was a "freak deal," Gomes told HuffPost, adding that he had no previous heart problems or family history of heart disease. After 27 hours of shrugging off typical symptoms like pressure on his chest and tingling in his arms, Gomes fainted. When he regained consciousness, he finally went to the hospital. His doctors told him that a second night at home would have killed him.
Fast forward 12 years since the heart attack. Gomes enjoyed another productive season last year, driving in 52 runs while hitting .247 and playing in 116 games for the World Series champs. Gomes married in 2009, and is now a father of three. He delayed this interview to drop off his daughter at school; he said family is particularly a priority for him after his own turbulent childhood. Gomes also spends time with the local Boys & Girls Club of Boston, where he can relate to many of the kids' experiences. When he was younger, his mother could not afford housing and his family faced the threat of homelessness. For a time, he slept at friends' houses.
"Anything involving kids I'm all in," Gomes said. "[I want] to help them have a fair chance at a normal childhood."
His tough upbringing, close calls and good fortune, Gomes said, all make him feel indebted to those who are not as fortunate.
"[There are] so many unanswered questions and so many forks in the road when you're young," Gomes said. "I always made a pact when I was young -- if I was fortunate to make it -- that I would stick to my roots and give back, and do what I could to make the path clearer."
Gomes recently began a fundraising effort to finance wheelchairs for people with disabilities who want to compete in athletics. He's working with the Travis Roy Foundation, which works with people with spinal cord injuries and their families. Gomes was inspired upon learning that Roy -- a former Boston University hockey player -- was paralyzed from the neck down in 1995 only 11 seconds into his first ever collegiate game.
"I want to create and raise enough money to buy a fleet of wheel chairs," he said. His first order of business will be convincing his regular sponsor, Phillips Norelco, the shaving and personal care company, to donate $10,000 to the foundation in February by promising to shave his trademark beard.
"I want to have anybody who would be interested in access to these carts to get back into an active lifestyle in a marathon or a race of some sort," Gomes said.
"From my early hardship as a young kid I realized that tomorrow is not guaranteed and you have to shape your life day-to-day," he said. "Some people and kids are not able to realize that, so I help and will pass along my message to those in need."
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