Jimmy Gomez was a street kid in the South Bronx in the 1970s.
How he became a Golden Gloves champ is his story, but it’s also part of Ron Sardanopoli’s story.
Sardanopoli, a Plantation Lakes resident, spent two years mentoring Gomez, and put it on his bucket list to someday write the kid’s story.
That day came with the recent publication of “Leap of Trust.”
Retired now from 36 years in the Army, Sardanopoli was still in the National Guard when the Bronx was literally burning.
It was the mid-70s, the economy was terrible and about 40% of business owners were torching their own buildings to collect insurance money.
People lost their jobs and their homes, and street gangs were in control.
“There was something about Jimmy Gomez. He was about 18, just back from basic training with the National Guard, and different from the other street kids,” Sardanopoli says.
As the story goes, Gomez saw four thugs take an old lady’s purse and ran after them. When Sardanopoli got a call from a policeman who said Gomez asked him to call Sardanopoli, one thug was on the ground, Gomez was still all over the second one, and the other two were up against a wall, shaking.
Sardanopoli told Gomez, who’d been in hundreds of street fights, that an arm like his could be used for better things than beating up thugs.
“My sincere compassion for the underprivileged human beings has always been my daunting and most difficult, unsettling subject matter to deal with,” Sardanopoli writes in the preface to his book.
When he got that phone call, he asked himself if he was being called upon to be a Good Samaritan…to make a difference in one kid’s life…to get involved.
“If there was just some way or somehow that I could play a role in helping someone lift their spirits and provide support and guidance to get them to a positive path,” the Carolina Forest resident writes,” describing why he vouched for Gomez on that phone call.
“Leap of Trust” is available in e-book, from Barnes and Noble, and through Ron Sardanopoli’s Facebook page.
On Feb. 15, from 3-4 p.m., there will be a “Leap of Trust” book signing at the Carolina Forest Library.
Gomez started training at the Morrisania Youth Center, a Golden Gloves-sanctioned gym, with Sardanopoli by his side.
The mentor was literally in Gomez’s corner, urging him to get his GED, holding the ropes open for him to climb into the ring, and wiping blood from his face during training and then during the fights.
The New York Daily News started covering Gomez’s fights, the soldiers and staff of the 1st Battalion 105th Field Artillery bought him a red and gold boxing robe, and Gomez started winning his matches.
He went through his training, his preliminary matches, his quarter-finals and his semi-finals, building a relationship of trust with Sardanopoli.
“Faith and trust are contradictory,” Sardanopoli writes. “Faith has been related to the substance of hope. But trust is real. It’s something you can see, feel and touch.”
Gomez – dubbed “Jimmy ‘Big Gun’ Gomez” by the Daily News – fought Fernandi Linares on Friday, March 11, 1977 in Madison Square Garden and won the Golden Gloves championship.
And when he did, he leapt into Sardanopoli’s arms in a “Leap of Trust” the Daily News captured.
The Plantation Lakes author lost touch with Gomez although he’s tried earnestly to find him.
What he hasn’t lost is his conviction that one person can have a lasting impact on another person’s life, as he did with a street kid from the South Bronx who became a Golden Gloves champion.
Sardanopoli and his wife Linda moved to the Grand Strand from New York in 2008, and he says they’re enjoying their “forever home” in Carolina Forest.
He is a retired Dutchess Community College adjunct professor, a retired career Army Chief Warrant Five-CW5 Officer, a father, grandfather, and author working on his second book.
That one, he says, recounts stories from his first-responder experience at Ground Zero on 9/11.