Rob Mendez ESPY 2019 Award Winner: Coach Wins Jimmy V Perseverance Award

Getty

Rob Mendez, ESPY 2019 winner of the Jimmy V Perseverance Award, pursued his dream to become a football coach despite the fact he was born without arms and legs.

“When you dedicate yourself to something and open your mind to different possibilities … you really can go places in this world,” he said during his acceptance speech.

Mendez has a rare disease called tetra-amelia syndrome. He gained noteriety after telling his story on an ESPN SportsCenter Featured Piece in February 2019 called “Who Says I Can’t?” The special is named for his catch phrase and his football team’s rallying cry.

He learned how to play football through the Madden video games. As a student at Gilroy High School, he watched football practice from a distance. Coaches invited him into the huddle and started teaching him plays. He learned to draw and write with his mouth, and diagrams plays on a smartphone using a stylus.

“There’s definitely doubters out there, like parents,” he said on the trailer. “That lights a fire under my belly and gets me excited to really just try to prove people wrong about it.”

It took 12 years of working as an assistant coach at 12 different high schools before he was hired as a head coach.

“The fight in life, I can relate to the fight on the field,” Mendez told Mercury News. “Hopefully show them that I am not giving up, and they can’t give up on the field. We all need each other.”

Mendez is the junior varsity football coach at Prospect High School about 40 miles from Saratoga, California. His is 31 years old and lives in Gilroy, California. He is also a motivational speaker.

His next goal is to become a varsity coach.

ESPN announced Rob Mendez would be this year’s recipient of the Jimmy V Perseverance Award in a tweet Wednesday, along with an earlier video that showed Rob Mendez in tears after learning he would receive the award. He visited ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut for a tour.

“This is my superbowl, for sure,” he said.

Read more about the disease here.

Here’s what you need to know:


‘This Is My Superbowl,’ Rob Mendez Said Of The Award

Rob Mendez thought he was invited to the ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut for a tour of the headquarters. In addition, he learned from ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro he would be the recipient of the ESPY 2019 Jimmy V Perseverance Award.

The network announced the award in a tweet Wednesday, along with a video of Rob Mendez learning he would receive the award.

“Rob Mendez, who was born without arms or legs, was never able to play football,” ESPN wrote. “That didn’t stop him from pursuing his dreams of being a coach. Coach Mendez will receive the Jimmy V Award For Perseverance at the @ESPYS Wednesday at 8p ET on @ABCNetwork.”

Pitaro explained the award to him on the video.

“Every year we have an event called the ESPYs. It’s very important to us, to our company,” he began. “As a part of that we celebrate the bests in sports. The Jimmy V award recognizes perseverance. I just want to take a moment and congratulate you. You indeed will receive that award this summer.”

Rob Mendez was in tears when he learned the news.

“Never give up is something I’ve always related to,” he said. “It’s just very humbling.”

It is an honor,” he added. Thank you so much, Jimmy, from the bottom of my heart. This is my Superbowl for sure.”


He Learned Football From Madden Video Games

Rob Mendez was born without arms and legs because of a rare disease called tetra-amelia syndrome. The disease prevents arms and legs from growing as an embryo develops, according to ESPN.

Mendez had a passion for football but couldn’t play the sport. Instead, he became a coach.

He learned football by playing Madden video game. He learned to press the buttons with his chin and collarbone. He liked that the game allowed him breaks. Soon his friends were organizing a 32-team tournament, and he finished 2nd, ESPN reported.

“It sounds so ridiculous, but it’s true,” he says. “That’s how humans are — they adapt. I couldn’t tell you what it felt like to catch a ball in the flat, but I knew what it was and why it worked.”

As a student, he would watch football practices at Gilroy High School. The coaches noticed him watching at a distance and invited him to join their huddles. The coach taught him how to call plays and let him listen in on headset to hear coaches calling plays and sat in on coaches meetings.

“As a 14-year-old kid, I was having the time of my life,” Mendez said. “I just fell in love with the sport because it’s such a chess match out there and a mental game out there that you have to call the right play at the right time.”

It took 12 years for someone to hire him as head coach. He worked as an assistant coach for 12 years at five different high schools.

“The fight in life, I can relate to the fight on the field,” Mendez told Mercury News. “Hopefully show them that I am not giving up, and they can’t give up on the field. We all need each other.”

ESPN said he ends every practice by saying, “I love you guys.”

Madden coaches his football team from a custom-built wheelchair. He moves the wheelchair around with his shoulders, Mercury News reported. Mendez learned how to write with his mouth, and maps out plays on a smartphone attached to the wheelchair, drawing diagrams with a stylus or using a pen on a whiteboard.

“Maybe it’s ego, but when somebody tells me I can’t do something, or tries to separate me … I just want to prove them wrong,” Mendez told ESPN.

Mendez told the Mercury News he understands that going about his daily life is inspiring to people and to his team.

“I don’t even have to tell people to get up and be motivated and active in their daily lives,” Mendez told Mercury News. “I just get random people coming up to me. It could get overwhelming at times when I am trying to get my work done. But I know that is essentially what I am here for. I show people that it is going to be OK, and I give them hope.

“It’s like going to order a coffee on my own and being confident to do that. I did not realize this five or six years ago — just waking up, getting out of bed, going to work and making your own money, that’s a simple motivation in itself because there are so many steps in itself to do it.”