For Robert Mendez, setting aside some quiet time for a phone interview is not an easy task.
The Gilroy resident is a popular high school football coach, motivational speaker and digital artist. Throughout the conversation, a steady stream of friendly voices can be heard greeting Mendez in the background.
“I came outside so I didn’t make noise in the library—but now,” his voice trails off as another passerby comes up to say hi.
It’s not surprising that Mendez is so well-liked. The 27-year-old has made it his life’s work to motivate and inspire.
But now, the young man called “Coach Rob” by his student athletes, is asking the community for help.
Mendez was born without limbs and his daily schedule, which includes long hours on public transit as he shuttles between his home in Gilroy and job in San Jose, is starting to take its toll.
Mendez works as an assistant football coach at San Jose High School and attends classes twice a week at San Jose City College where he is studying math.
He hopes to get a bachelor’s degree in communications.
The commute can take him up to 2½ hours each way, shorter if he can get the express bus.
Seeing his daily struggle, Mendez’s sister Jackie set up a GoFundMe fundraising campaign on his behalf.
They want help to purchase a fully equipped van with a lift and restroom. It would be large enough to transport Mendez’s electric wheelchair and free him from having to rely on public facilities while he is out.
She writes: “While we are very thankful to have public transportation for Robert, it is quickly taking a toll on his body . . . causing severe pressure sores and severe back pain due to his scoliosis. Longer days are requiring him to be in his wheelchair much longer . . . already having to wait for his aid for assistance, he is constantly having to regulate his liquid intake every day so he doesn’t have to use the bathroom so often.”
While on the phone—his voice exuberant and good-natured—it’s easy to forget that he has a severe disability and easy to see why he is such a valued coach and motivational speaker.
“Robert is an awesome person. He helped me coach my sons Victor Jr. and Adrian at Gilroy Little League. Robert was always there and I could count on him to get players motivated,”writes one of the donors on the GoFundMe page.
One day at the start of his freshman year in high school, Mendez finds himself without any of his friends to go home with, so he goes over to watch the football team practice.
Noticing him in the distance, the coach calls him over and from that moment on, he is part of the team.
“That was when my passion for football began,” he says. “They took me under their wing. I travelled with the team, went into the coaches’ meetings—they pretty much taught me how to be a coach.”
Mendez would go on to serve as team manager and thrillingly, listen in on game calls during the game.
“I absorbed everything,” he adds.
Mendez got his first coaching job in 2006 at his alma mater, Gilroy High School.
He credits coach Rich Hammond for showing him the ropes.
“That first year was an experience in and of itself,” he says. Not much older than the high school students he was there to lead and guide, he says he was still “listening and learning.”
“I was not nearly as confident as I am now,” he adds.
Now Mendez looks forward to a possible new stint at San Jose High School.
He’s currently the offensive assistant for the varsity football squad, but is shooting for the offensive coordinator job.
Mendez speaks to youth groups about once a month. He says he never writes an outline before going up on stage to make a speech. Instead, he gives himself free range to have fun and speak from the heart.
“I have fun up there,” he says, “I enjoy speaking to kids.”
Asked what kind of response he gets from the audience, he chuckles. “I hate to say it, but I rock the house.”
Mendez started sketching as a little kid. He now uses smartphones and tablets for his digital artwork, and gives a high rating to the Samsung S Note app.
He’s used it to create many of his digital drawings and illustrations, a sample of which can be found on his website coachrobmendez.com.
Asked how getting the van would impact his life, he says “it feels awkward talking about this stuff,” as the voice of another well-wisher is heard through the receiver.
“It would be a luxury to be able to get from Point A to Point B in a reasonable time. It would be a blessing.”
To contribute to the Transportation for Robert campaign, visit https://www.gofundme.com/bazhwe2k.