High school football coach Rob Mendez, born without arms or legs, is this year’s recipient of the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance. Before he accepts the hardware at the 2019 ESPYs, he shared a heartwarming letter to the game of football.
“The game has given me a life that nobody believes a man in a wheelchair born without arms and legs could have,” he wrote in an ESPN story published Tuesday. “Together, we’ve proved all of them wrong. And it’s only the beginning.”
Mendez talked about his journey through the sport he loved — from growing up watching the San Francisco 49ers, to becoming a manager in high school, to 12 years as an assistant coach, to finally becoming a head coach for Prospect (Saratoga, California.) High School’s junior varsity team.
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“Those kids gave me a purpose,” he wrote. “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.”
Mendez said he holds high optimism for the future and is considering pursuing the NFL’s minority coaching intern program one day.
“Twenty years down the road, I hope to be an established, respected football coach,” he wrote.”Not a great coach for a man without arms and legs, but a great coach, period.”