Gary Peterson: Armless, legless South Bay football coach honored at ESPYS has a message for you [Mercury News]

11-07-2019 19:07

Jul. 11--Rob Mendez was just a little tyke when college basketball coach and broadcaster Jim Valvano made his resonant speech at the 1993 ESPYS upon receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

Ashe? He was a courageous inspiration who integrated men's professional tennis and died young, 49, from AIDS-related pneumonia, likely due to receiving tainted blood during heart surgery.

The charismatic Valvano, terminal with cancer, advised a worldwide audience to laugh, think and cry each day. He pleaded for people to donate to cancer research. And he famously urged, "Don't give up. Don't ever give up."

In time, Mendez was versed in Valvano's speech, his cause, his spirit. It became one of Mendez's guiding lights as he endeavored to find a calling despite the lack of arms and legs. Mendez, as introduced in a 2016 story by this news organization, was born with tetra-amelia syndrome. You may also know that he has risen above the challenging hand that fate dealt him.

Now 31, he is the head coach of the junior varsity football team at Saratoga's Prospect High School, which went 8-2 last season.

On Wednesday night, on the ESPYS, Rob Mendez received the Jimmy V. Perseverance Award. His voice was commanding. He manipulated his wheelchair, moving back and forth, engaging his audience. He was confident.

"'I've made it this far and who says I can't go further?" he said. "That's my message."

He seemed unfazed. Just like any successful football coach you've ever known.

And now I'm going to get out of the way, because he knows his story better than anyone.

But I'll leave you with this: What happened at the ESPYs in 1993, and on Wednesday night was not about college basketball nor high school football. It was about guiding lights and the enduring resilience of the human spirit. Watching Mendez being celebrated in the name of Jim Valvano, who was celebrated in the name of Arthur Ashe, I find myself looking forward to a distant ESPY Awards at which some amazing, uplifting young man or woman accepts an award in the name of Rob Mendez.

For now, spend some time with the man of the hour:


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