Inspiring football coach Rob Mendez is being honored at the ESPYs with the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance. Mendez is a legend to everyone who knows him and an inspiration for even those who have never met him. Mendez was born without arms or legs, but he has never let that define him or stop him from making amazing achievements in his life. Here is what you need to know about Rob Mendez.
1. He Was Born with Tetra-Amelia Syndrome
Rob Mendez was born without arms or legs due to tetra-amelia syndrome. Tetra-amelia is a rare disorder whose primary characteristic is preventing embryos from developing limbs. For some, the lungs and other organs may also be underdeveloped and they may have breathing difficulties. Many who are born with this condition have so many congenital issues that they are stillborn or die shortly after they’re born. The condition is caused by a mutation on the WNT3 gene. Only a few families across the world have reported cases of the syndrome, perhaps as few as seven known throughout the world.
Mendez has defied many odds. He’s 30-years-old with an active, successful career. Mendez is mobile because of a special wheelchair that he can control with head and neck movements, ESPN reported.
His parents pushed him to live as normal a life as possible, enrolling him in preschool when he was 18 months old and then enrolling him in kindergarten. His dad taught him to push his limits, and he did just that.
2. Mendez Learned Football By Playing Madden Video Games
Mendez didn’t let the fact that he couldn’t hold a football stop him from achieving his dream. He learned football by playing Madden video games, USA Today reported.
It was actually his sister Jackie who got him into playing with their PlayStation, ESPN reported. She put a controller under his chin and he used his chin to press the buttons. He liked the idea of resting between plays, so the football games appealed to him. When he finished second in a tournament among 32 friends, he was hooked.
3. He Was Team Manager for His High School Football Team as a Freshman
Mendez started his career by being the team manager when he was a freshman in high school. He developed game plans on the video games and then took them to the team, ESPN shared. He was only interested in football, even when his parents said he could make a lot of money in motivational speaking.
ESPN Producer Will Tomlinson tweeted after meeting Mendez: “Meeting @coachrobmendez was a Mt. Rushmore experience yesterday. To say he is inspirational is almost not enough; how he spreads joy & love makes you want to hammer through whatever stands in your way. Coach turns the fire inside you into a raging inferno.”
4. He Coached a Winning Season When He Was First Given a Chance To Be Head Coach
He worked as an assistant for 12 years at five high schools, SFGate reported. He was finally given the chance to be a head coach when Prospect High School in Saratoga, California offered him the opportunity to coach their JV team. He coached them to an astounding 8-2 season.
It wasn’t easy. Just two weeks before his first game, he fell forward in his chair and his head hit the concrete. His cheek and other bones in his face were fractured and he had a concussion. But after missing just one day, he was back at practice and back at his job.
He told ESPN that he likes the way he is and wouldn’t get prosthetics unless he became a father. He said it brings out the best in people when they see him and gives him hope in the world.
Since the winning season, more kids want to play on his team than they’d typically have space for, but he doesn’t want to cut anyone. NBC reported that he’s expecting more than the 38 players they have helmets and pads for, so he’ll need a donor or fundraising to cover the rest because he wants to avoid cuts.
He told USA Today in a letter he shared to the game of football: “Those kids gave me a purpose. A feeling that I not only belonged but that I was their leader. Most everywhere I go, people look down on me. They stare at me. They feel pity. On the football field, with my team by my side, they didn’t see me as a man in a wheelchair. They saw their football coach, a man who believed in them, who taught them about the importance of school, family and living your life the right way. And they all bought in. There was something in the way they would look up to me, with this sort of magical look in their eye, waiting for me to say the right words to inspire them. No one had ever looked at me like that before. Rarely had anyone looked to me to be the one to help them.”
He said that in 20 years, he hopes to be an established and respected football coach.
5. Mendez’s Favorite Hashtag on Social Media Is #WhoSaysICant
If you follow Rob Mendez on Twitter, you’ll quickly learn that his favorite hashtag is #WhoSaysICant (in all caps.) In fact, that’s the inspirational saying for his life that he shares to push others to follow their dreams too.
He often receives affirmations from students who are inspired by him, like the letters he shared on Twitter.
One of the letters reads: “Dear Mr. Mendez. You are such an inspiration. You are strong, and you are fearful. You said that after you fell out of your wheelchair, the video said that after two days you were back out on the field coaching football again and that shows that you are tough and that you can persevere through anything without any hesitation. Thank you! Who says I can’t? No one! (Your saying is so inspirational!) … PS My Saying Is… ‘If there is no struggle there is no success.'”
Another letter from a student at Pioneer Ridge Middle School in Gardner, Kansas that he shared reads: “I admire Rob Mendez because he fights for his heart to win. He fights his heart out to teach his football team. His advise [sic] is never give up… It’s not about winning it’s about what’s in your heart.”
He loves to share his story with others, inspiring them to new heights too.
You can donate to Mendez’s Who Says I Can’t campaign so he can travel to different schools and share his story. Those who donate $40 or more will get a T-shirt that reads Who Says I Can’t.