You are here

Yvonne Gutierrez: From fastballs to fighting fires

Yvonne Gutierrez led UCLA to three NCAA softball championships, then entered one of the hottest careers - firefighting.


Yvonne Gutierrez
Los Angeles Fire Department firefighter and fire engineer

Hometown: Culver City, California

Current city: Venice, California

School: Bachelor of Science in psychology, 1995, University of California, Los Angeles

Sport: Softball

Fun fact: In her free time, Gutierrez enjoys golfing and traveling.

Although it’s been more than two decades since she graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, Yvonne Gutierrez still gets fired up about the value of participating in a college sport.

She spent her undergraduate years studying psychology while competing on the softball team, but once she was introduced to the idea of working as a firefighter with the Los Angeles Fire Department, she knew she had discovered a career that could excite her as much as softball.

Gutierrez recalls her days as a UCLA student-athlete with great fondness.

“I loved it,” she said. “Balancing academics and athletics wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t difficult, either. You just have to find a way to effectively manage your time and stay focused on why you’re there.”

A triplet born and raised in Culver City, Gutierrez has lived in Southern California all her life. Her mother stayed at home to raise her five kids – two girls and three boys – regularly chauffeuring them between practices, games and events.

“We grew up right across the street from a park,” Gutierrez recalled. “When the sun was up, my mom would tell us to go out and play, and we’d be gone all day. There were park/recreation leaders who organized basketball, softball and football, so we played a lot of different sports.” 

That foundation carried over to Gutierrez’s years at Culver City High School, where she participated in volleyball, basketball and softball. At that time, she admits she wasn’t giving much thought to a future career path.

“I knew my future would involve something with being outside, but really, I just wanted to play softball and go to college,” she said.

Gutierrez enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles, working toward a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology while playing NCAA Division I softball as an outfielder. Her UCLA team won three NCAA championships; Gutierrez also was named to the Women’s College World Series All-Tournament Team three times and was inducted into the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013. As it turned out, a career path happened to find her.

“During my junior year, some friends of mine came to a softball game, and I noticed they were studying something,” Gutierrez said. “I asked what they were doing, and they told me they were applying for jobs with the Fire Department. Something clicked for me, and I thought, ‘Wow, that sounds like something I’d be interested in.’”

After four years of playing softball at UCLA, Gutierrez submitted her own application to the Los Angeles Fire Department as a fifth-year senior, and was selected.

“I was originally supposed to graduate in 1992, but I was hired on at the Fire Department and had to leave UCLA without finishing that last quarter,” she said. “My grandma wasn’t very happy about it, and she made me promise I would go back.”

After three years with the Fire Department, Gutierrez was able to return to school and complete her last outstanding quarter of work. She received her degree in 1995.Gutierrez credits then-UCLA head coach Sharron Backus and assistant coach Sue Enquist with keeping her studies on track. 

“The coaches do a good job of helping you prioritize your schoolwork and earn a degree,” Gutierrez said. “Quite simply, if you don’t get the grades, you don’t get to play.”

Gutierrez now shares her thoughts on the benefits of participating in college sports with her five nieces, hoping they’ll follow in her footsteps.

“I’m constantly in their ear about how great college is,” she said. “And, coming in as an athlete, you automatically have a family and resources in place to help you.”

Some of the lessons Gutierrez learned as a college player still resonate with her today.

“Being a student-athlete taught me to have a good work ethic,” she said. “There’s nothing you can’t accomplish if you put your mind to it. All I wanted was for my UCLA softball team to be No. 1. During my time off, I practiced and worked on the things I wasn’t great at so I’d become more proficient. It’s the same in life. Now, if there’s something I’m not good at, I know that I can work at it and get better.”

After 23 years with the Los Angeles Fire Department, Gutierrez is content in her role as a firefighter and fire engineer.

“I enjoy the schedule, the routine and the people I work with,” she said. “I think if you enjoy what you’re doing, no matter what it is, then you’re successful. If you’re not happy with what you’re doing, it’s time to find something else. Don’t be afraid to change.”

With that tenet in mind, Gutierrez urges today’s student-athletes to enjoy their college experiences, but also to keep their wits about them and remain humble.

“Don’t think you’re bigger than the sport, the program or the school,” she said. “Don’t go in with the attitude of ‘What can the school do for me?’ Think about what you can contribute.”

We want to hear from you

We need your help. Taken together as a whole, the former NCAA student-athlete contribution to society is staggering. Better yet, many credit their student-athlete academic and athletic experiences as being the key to their life-long success. NCAA After the Game is looking to tell these compelling former student-athlete stories. If you know a good story idea, click on the link below and send it to us.

Submit a Story >