Who Says I Can't?
By Greg Bach
For more than 15 years, Rob Mendez has been motivating young football players in Northern California to work hard, dream big and believe in themselves both on and off the field.
And along the way his messages have resonated with young athletes and adults worldwide.
Mendez was born with no arms or legs – a condition called tetra-amelia syndrome.
It is so rare only a few cases are known globally. But it never blocked his dream of coaching kids and impacting lives.
“This is my life, and it has always been,” says Mendez, who is the head junior varsity football coach at Prospect High School in Saratoga, Calif., and author of the new memoir Who Says I Can’t? The Astonishing Story of a Fearless Life. “I know nothing else. That’s one of the reasons I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with other people defining me by my appearance or by my physical limitations. I don’t think of myself as a football coach without limbs. I am, simply, a football coach.”
A mighty good one, too.
The twists and turns of a season – regardless if it’s U12 softball or high school football – provides coaches with endless opportunities for helping young athletes grasp that not every game will unfold as hoped.
There will be lots of mistakes, setbacks, and disappointments along the way.
“You’re not going to get peaches and cream every single day and you’re not always going to get the outcome that you want,” Mendez says. “But as a coach you have to set an example of persevering through the challenges and embracing your own challenges so you can exemplify it to your team. So it’s being persistent in what you are teaching and showing your commitment to the kids, because that’s one thing that I am always talking about is committing yourself to the football program.”
And being a team player through it all.
“It’s about keeping things in perspective and reminding them that we all have the goal of being selfless,” he says.
THOUGHTFUL AND COMPASSIONATE
Being thoughtful and compassionate are two qualities that mean a lot to Mendez.
“No matter what you do in life, I think being thoughtful and being compassionate goes a long way,” he says. “Those two things have definitely carried me far in my life because people have been thoughtful of me and compassionate of my circumstances, so I think just me trying to practice what people have shown me is important to do.”
His memoir takes readers on an inspirational and revealing journey, as he details the emotional and physical hurdles he confronted to fulfilling his dream of becoming a coach. He also shares his game plan for living a successful life, which includes focusing on what you can do instead of what you can’t.
The process of putting the book together also enabled Mendez the opportunity to take a closer look at all the special moments in his life and all those who have impacted his journey.
“One of my favorite parts of the actual process of writing the book was reflecting on how many people have been a part of my life,” he says. “It definitely made me appreciate my relationships a lot more as I reflected on them.”
In 2019 he received the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the ESPY Awards, where he spoke to an audience of his biggest sports heroes.
“I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to share my story with everyone,” he says. “I started realizing there are things bigger than football, so through football this whole journey has made me realize that my purpose here in life is to be an example for a lot of these younger student-athletes that I coach, or who have read my story.”
As he writes in the last chapter of his book: I want to reach people. I want to inspire them to live their lives to the fullest, to never give up on their dreams and aspirations. And to love themselves for who they are.
Follow Rob Mendez on Instagram @coachrobmendez
Four-time Olympian Katie Uhlaender on savoring the joys of competing, conquering pressure, staying focused, and more
In recognition of Children’s Cardiomyopathy Awareness Month, check out Part Two of our conversation with Lisa Yue, Board President of the Children’s Cardiomyopathy Foundation
Mark Richt, former head football coach at the University of Georgia and University of Miami and author of the new book MAKE THE CALL, on coaching young athletes, impacting lives, and more