Health science alum Julius Naranjo goes for the gold and makes history
Story by Laura Pangelinan
It was a surreal moment for Julius Naranjo when he witnessed Hidilyn Diaz standing
on the winners’ podium at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Diaz made history by taking the
55-kilogram division in weightlifting and becoming the first person from the Philippines
to win an Olympic gold medal.
As her strength and conditioning coach and partner, Naranjo was right by her side.
“After we won, it was such a surreal feeling because it was a historical moment. It was one of those times where you just put everything out there — you put your heart, your soul, and everything into what you do,” Naranjo said. “I wanted to make sure I represented Guam, my country, and my home the best way I can.”
After earning his bachelor’s in health science with a concentration in exercise science and health promotion, along with a minor in nutrition, from the University of Guam in 2013, Naranjo started his career as a coach and general manager at Custom Fitness Guam, a local strength and conditioning gym. He also joined the Guam National Weightlifting Team.
In 2018, he decided to take a major risk. He packed his bags and moved to the Philippines to help his girlfriend achieve her Olympic gold dream.
From a lack of funding to a global pandemic to training in a backyard gym in Malaysia for 19 months, their journey toward the Olympics was never easy.
“It was not only tiring physically, but also mentally and emotionally because of the pandemic,” he said. Naranjo said he had to be creative to get them to gold, so he adjusted his program to fit into their circumstances.
When they touched down in Tokyo and the competition day finally came, he was ready. He knew all the time they spent training, strategizing, and planning would be worth it, and it was just a matter of executing their plan.
“I was nervous leading up to it, but those nerves disappeared on the competition day, and I felt as ready as can be,” he said. “I knew that all the hard work I put into it — all the failures, the wins, the struggles — it all just came together when I was there, and I just knew what to do and how to execute.”
One of his mentors at UOG, his instructor Chris Mullins, encouraged him to join the Health Science Program because of his interest in training and his passion for helping people. Naranjo credits his education and experiences at the University of Guam for helping him build the foundation he needed to succeed.
“Everything you learn in school is a guide — you continue to learn when you apply it. My undergraduate experience helped me gain the fundamental skills I needed for real life and the workforce,” he said.
Naranjo said his psychology courses helped him understand his athletes better, being in a student organization taught him about leadership, and his internships taught him about business.
“With student organizations, you get a feel of what it’s like to be a leader. Being a part of the Health Science Student Organization allowed me to understand leadership and being a role model, which are two qualities a good coach should have,” Naranjo said. “My internships allowed me to apply what I learned in the classroom and gain real life experience.”
Naranjo plans to continue devoting his time and energy to training his athletes.
“I have a ton of athletes from around the world that I train remotely. I have athletes from Denmark, Norway, the Philippines, the U.S., Saipan, Malaysia, Spain, Japan, and the United Kingdom,” he said.
So what’s next for Naranjo and Diaz?
They’re training for another competition in May and shifting toward the Paris Olympics in 2024. They’re going for the gold again.