On one of the biggest nights in sports, one of its biggest inspirational figures got to address some of the most recognized athletes. Rob Mendez received the Jimmy V award for courage. He is just a junior-varsity football coach, but he is an inspiration because he has become who he wanted to be, despite being born with no limbs.
After years of preparation as an assistant coach, Prospect High School in San Jose, Calif., gave Mendez the opportunity he had dreamed of — to be a head football coach for the JV football team. In sports, there is an easy way to judge success looking at the wins and losses record. In his first season at the helm, the JV team went 8-2. But Mendez’s success goes much deeper.
The crowd at the ESPY Awards on Wednesday night rose to their feet as Rob Mendez took the stage and clearly were touched by his inspirational story.
“If there’s any message I want to give you guys tonight, it’s to look at me and see how much passion I put into coaching and how far it’s gotten me,” said the 31-year-old coach.
Rob Mendez accepted the Jimmy V award that was named in honor of the late Jim Valvano, who coached North Carolina State basketball and gave an iconic speech to “never give up” only months before he died of cancer in 1993.
Mendez was born with tetra-amelia syndrome, a disease that prevents limb growth in the womb. But, despite his severe disability, he has found his calling as a football coach.
“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,” Mendez told Fox News.
In his ESPY speech, Rob Mendez told the audience, “When you dedicate yourself to something and open your mind to different possibilities and focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t do, you really go places.”
He also addressed his future in football. He has previously said he would like to move from coaching high school football to college and maybe the NFL.
“I’m not done yet. I’ve made it this far, and who says I can’t go further?” And, as he does in every game to inspire his players, he shouted, “Who says I can’t? Nobody!”