Dominic Martinez may seem like an average high school senior as he walks the halls of Pomona with fellow students.
He’ll turn 18 in May; he has played football since he was in third grade and runs track in the spring; his favorite subject is math, and he’s taken a slew of advanced placement and honors classes in a variety of subjects.
What sets Martinez apart, though, is that he has been able to accomplish all of these things while taking care of himself by himself.
Martinez’s mother died from breast cancer in 2010 when he was just a freshman in high school.
“I find my motivation from my past and upbringing prior to her passing,” Martinez said. “She instilled in me hard work and passion for everything you do.”
Martinez’s motivation and determination both in and outside of the classroom caught the eyes of his teachers and counselor, who nominated him for the Jefferson Foundation’s “My Student, My Hero” award. Martinez and other winners were recognized during a ceremony on March 16.
“You can react negatively or positively,” Martinez said. “I want to use it to make me a better person, a better athlete, a better citizen and a better person.”
Martinez said the biggest issue he has faced since his mother’s passing was finding a place to live.
“Family is not an option,” he said. “Our household was small, just me and my mom, and my extended family is out of the state. I’ve been blessed with people in my life who I’ve stayed with. I’ve stayed in four households in four years.”
Two of the friends he has lived with are friends from the Pomona football team, which Martinez said has given him support and an outlet.
“It’s an outlet for me to freely express my emotions in a healthy manner,” he said. “It’s definitely helped me through everything. (The team has) been there for me, and the head coach helped me a lot and was very understanding.”
As Martinez is nearing his run as a Pomona Panther, he is looking ahead to the fall when he will become a Colorado State University Ram.
“I plan to go to CSU to pursue biomedical engineering,” he said. “I want to use my knowledge to help others.”
Though he isn’t quite yet sure in what way he will help others, he said he has a few interests.
“I’m fascinated by how the brain operates,” he said. “I want to get into genetic engineering, but I’m interested in cognitive studies too.”
Though he has been playing football for nearly a decade, Martinez said he doesn’t plan to wear a green and gold jersey, but focus on his studies and the social aspects of college in the fall.
The way Martinez has overcome challenges and excelled is why his teachers and counselor nominated him for the My Student, My Hero award.
“I haven’t come across a kid that exemplifies the award like he does,” said Pomona world languages teacher Gillian Lange-Kemper. “It would be so easy to give up and take the easy road and use life experiences as an excuse, and he went the complete opposite direction.”
In her nomination letter, Lange-Kemper described what type of person Martinez really is.
“Dominic Martinez is a kid with unparalleled leadership potential,” the letter read. “A kid who has faced adversity with a strength of character not seen in many adults. A kid who is always willing to lend a helping hand and support. A kid with impressive athletic ability but a humble personality. A kid with drive, determination, and academic promise that will take him far.”
Having seen Martinez grow since his junior year, Lange-Kemper said she is excited to see what his future holds.
“I cannot wait to see what he does in the future,” she said.
At the young age of 17, Martinez has already learned the value of hard work, education and, most importantly, a positive outlook.
“I don’t have much right now, but I have a chance and opportunities,” Martinez said. “And with that, education is important to success and what you put into it is what you’ll get out.”