Life is always hard when you start first down and long. Mark Gomez’s life didn’t start out the same as everyone else’s. Not many people gave him and his brother, Mario, a chance in life. He was further burdened when he was abandoned by his father as a 1-year-old.
Mark’s mother, Olivia Gomez, felt with two kids to support, she would need her family more than ever. Olivia would lean on her parents, Fermin and Stella Gomez. Both grandparents would come to mean everything to Mark throughout his life. The fact that Mark has accomplished great things in life is a testament to the two most influential men he has ever known: his grandfather, Fermin, and stepfather, George Reid.
Both Fermin and Stella Gomez taught him and his brother, Mario a work ethic that would make them both successful throughout their lives. Fermin was a farmer and owned Gomez Café in Hagerman. Mark worked at the café since he was 5 years old, washing dishes, vacuuming the floor and clearing tables.
He would learn to cook, make chips, salsa and could count change back to customers by the time he was 10 years old. Growing up around his grandfather, the one thing that stuck in his psyche was the way people respected Fermin. Fermin worked hard to take care of his 10 children and grandchildren. He treated everyone with dignity and respect.
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“That impressed me,” Mark stated. “My grandparents taught me a work ethic and if you work hard, you get rewarded. I enjoyed being able to earn a paycheck and support myself.”
Mark remembers as a 6-year-old kid, a man came walking up to the fence on his grandparents’ farm carrying a flour sack with everything he owned on his shoulders. The man asked Mark if his grandfather was at home. Mark had Stella come to talk to the man. Stella took one look at the man and asked if he had eaten lately. The man replied, “Not today.”
Stella told the man to come into the house and eat, that they could talk about work when Fermin came home. Stella’s act of kindness to a stranger has always stuck with him. Mark decided that was the kind of person he wanted to be when he grew up.
“That had a big impact on me,” Mark said. “It is something I will never forget as long as I live. How many people do that nowadays?”
Fermin and Stella encouraged Mark and Mario to compete in sports. Fermin told Mark he’d buy his equipment, uniforms, shoes and gloves and whatever he needed, but he could never come to watch him play because he had to work in order to pay for his gear.
“My grandfather (Fermin) was the man in our lives,” Mark said. “He was our grandpa. He taught us how to drive that three-column Rambler. I still carry my grandfather’s driver’s license with me in my wallet, and he died in 1972 when I was 12 years old. It was the worst day of my life, and the second was when my grandmother died in 1986. From the time I was old enough to remember anything, my brother and I spent every weekend and every summer with our grandparents.
Love at first sight
Mark was 5 years old at the Hagerman Daycare Center after school when he noticed James Freeman drawing a mural — of horses running in the desert — on three sheets of butcher block paper with chalk. When he saw that, Mark stopped in his tracks and thought, that’s what I want to do when I grow up.
“I knew that very instant,” Mark said. “I would be an artist.”
Fermin and Stella Gomez took Mario to art teacher Dorothy Steinberger for lessons. The Gomezes were telling her about Mark’s talents. Steinberger told them, I normally work with students 11 years old and older. They showed her Mark’s drawings and she told them to have him and Mario come on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon.
Both kids studied under her for three years. Steinberger taught them newsprints, charcoal sticks, oil paintings and how to make lines and curved lines. Mark likened drawing class to boot camp.
In high school, Mark would cherish art teacher Paul Drum, who taught him how to appreciate art history and the Renaissance era. He learned how to tool leather, make his own belts and do silversmithing. Mark’s favorite artists were Michaelangelo and Vincent Van Gogh.
“I love that man (Paul Drum),” Mark said. “He taught me so much about art and I appreciate it. I was able to absorb more from him.”
Olivia married George Reid when Mark was 4 years old. George would adopt Mark and Mario.
Mark would go on to become a great athlete at Dexter. Mark played basketball for his uncle John Reid, former basketball coach at Dexter. Mark would run track as well.
Mark was the only sophomore to start on the 1975 state semifinal team. That Dexter team, according to former coach George Burns, was talented, quick and small. Burns said his Demons were a finesse, passing team and ran out of the wishbone. Dexter would go undefeated through the regular season and playoffs.
In the semifinal game, Dexter played Clayton in regionals. Clayton had a running back named Bobby Spinelli who was leading the state in rushing at the time, averaging over 200 yards a game. He had over 2,000 yards rushing on the season. In the playoff game, Spinelli was held in check as he went into the locker room crying at halftime.
“Our defense (was) fearless and vicious,” Mark said. “We beat teams twice our size.”
In the game, Dexter held him to 35 yards rushing. On offense, Dexter had at fullback, Ernie Hernandez and running backs Randy Easley and Laney Kuykendall. Robert Cobos started at quarterback and was able to throw the ball to tight end Tony Hernandez, and wideouts Tommy Mirles, Mario Reid and Oscar Gomez. On defense, Dexter ran a 53 with two corners and safety.
Dexter would be upset 22-6 in the championship game played at Eunice. They had beaten Eunice earlier in the season, but this game was unusual. Nothing went right for the Demons. The winds were high and it took away Dexter’s passing game and ability to run the option.
When Dexter ran the option and Cobos had to make a pitch, the ball would blow backward or to the side, or would end up in a turnover. Dexter was stuck running into Eunice’s stacked middle of the line.
“I told our guys,” former Dexter coach George Burns said, “it’s hard to beat a team twice. It wasn’t our day on the field or with the weather.”
Dexter would finish the year at 12-1. Burns would coach Dexter from 1972-95. The ironic thing is after he left Dexter, Burns was an assistant coach for Dave Lynn at Eunice. When Lynn went to Texico, Burns became head coach and won a Blue Trophy in ‘99.
“Mark had good speed,” Burns said. “He was just a character as a kid. He was the kind of kid you loved to coach. Mark had a great personality.”
In 1997, Dairy Days asked him to do face painting. Mark went to the Roswell Mall and noticed a lady painting faces. After watching, Mark asked the lady what kind of paint she was using. The lady told him acrylic. Mark thought he could paint faces as well. In his first Dairy Days, Mark charged $1 per face and ended up making $140.
His uncle, Bill Gomez, was the executive director of the wine industry. Gomez asked Mark to work the New Mexico Wine Festival in Bernalillo on Labor Day and made $500.
Learning to body paint
Mark was setting up a booth to work GrapeFest in Grapevine, Texas when a lady named Judy Kubik tells him she’s looking for work. Mark asks to see her portfolio and was shocked because he had only done cheek art. Judy was doing full face tigers.
Mark lost his breath because he had never seen anything like that. He asked her to teach him to do that. Mark was painting cheek art with acrylics, he went from charging $1 a face to $8 for a tiger.
In 2003, Mark did his first body painting. He was offered by Marcela Murad a chance to be in her international magazine, Face and Body Art International Magazine. To do that, Mark needed to do five face paintings and one body art for the magazine. Mark’s girlfriend told him no, he was not going to be painting other naked women. She told him, I’m what you have and that’s it.
At the time, Mark was working at a bar, and told the bartender his girlfriend would not let him paint other women for a magazine. The bartender told Mark he could paint her and her friend. Once the magazine came out, Mark showed his girlfriend the magazine. She looked at it and didn’t say a word. She put the magazine down, went into the bedroom, packed her clothes and left. After the magazine came out, Mark won the Face and Bodyart International Convention in 2004 becoming the first American to win it.
After winning the competition, Mark went to work as a forklift operator at a steel manufacturing plant in Dallas, Texas. Because of his success with body painting, Mark was asked to go to conventions and had to ask his boss, Pete Contreras, for time off.
One day, Contreras called Mark into the office and fired him. Contreras told Mark he didn’t belong there. Contreras said if he gave it 150% and things didn’t work out, Contreras would give Mark his job back.
“That was the greatest thing anyone ever did for me,” Mark said.
After that, Mark went to 25 countries and competed in the World Championships in Face and Body Painting in 2007, finishing in seventh place. In 2008, he won first place in the preliminaries of the world championships for sponge and brush, beating out 80 people from 40 countries. He won third place in the world. Placing so high, Mark was asked to teach at the World Body Painting Academy and has taught there for six years.
Mark cannot name his favorite painting. The most famous person he has painted was Penthouse Playmate of the Year in 2010, and also the runner-up the same year. Mark has painted at the Playboy Mansion twice and painted for American Horror Story: Coven in Louisiana. He has been featured on the Travel Channel for Sturgis Raw in 2013. Mark worked the 2008 Super Bowl party for Leigh Steinberg, and other Super Bowl parties for the Black Eyed Peas, P. Diddy and Usher.
God answers prayers
Mark moved from Dallas, Texas to Albuquerque in 2006 and the year started out bad. One day, he was sitting in his room and noticed his calendar was empty in March and also he had no work in April. Mark told God, “I know that I don’t talk to you often like I should. I need some help. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. If this is what you want me to do, I need some help. I’m going to put this in your hands. If I’m not supposed to do this, that’s fine. If I am, either way, just give me a sign. If not, I will go find a job as a chef or carpenter, truck driver, or whatever. Just let me know.”
The next day, Mark gets a call from a friend. The friend asks him what he’s doing April 15 and 16. The friend was asked to do a festival in San Antonio, Texas. Mark then received another call asking if he could come to Arizona on April 21 and 22 to teach a class. Mark received another phone call on the third day asking if he was available, April 7 and 8 to come to Florida and teach a class. Mark said, “Thank you, God.”
Today, Mark is farming for his uncle Gilbert Gomez and helping to take care of his aunt, Elsie, but he still finds time to fill his schedule with painting.
“In order to be successful in life,” Mark said, “you have to fall in love with what you do. If you’re not in love with it, the chances of being successful are next to nothing. If you’re madly in love with something, you want to do it and you can feel it in your heart, then you can become great.”
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or firstname.lastname@example.org.