ESPN honors Mendez

Prestigious Jimmy V Award goes to highschool football coach

When ESPN aired Rob Mendez’s life story in a Sports Center featured segment on Feb. 16, it forever changed his life.

Mendez, a 31-year-old Gilroy resident who was born without arms and legs, was inundated with messages and requests to the point where his best course of action was to hire an agent to help him handle all of the demands of his time and direct him with his career going forward.

The Gilroy High graduate, who is entering his second year as the junior varsity football coach at Prospect High in Saratoga, will receive the Jimmy V Award for perseverance at the 2019 ESPYs, one of the most prestigious honors any sports figure can receive.

The ESPY Awards will be televised live July 10 on ABC at 5 pm local time. The Jimmy V Award—named after the late North Carolina State men’s basketball coach Jimmy Valvano—is awarded to “a deserving member of the sporting world who has overcome great obstacles through perseverance and determination.” In 1993, Valvano and ESPN founded the V Foundation, which has raised close to $100 million to fund cancer research grants in the US.

Mendez, who has had assistant coaching stints on junior varsity teams at Gilroy, Christopher and Sobrato, found out about the honor while visiting ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., in April. Safe to say, Mendez was flabbergasted.

“I knew there was something that was going to be presented to me; I just didn’t know that it was going to be the Jimmy V award,” Mendez said as he helped lead his players through a conditioning workout June 28.

“That was something very shocking, and it didn’t really sink in that day. I think I was in a fog living the dream. I woke up the next day and thought, ‘Is this real?’ It’s here, but it still probably won’t feel real to me until I’m up on that stage giving that speech. This is a dream come true, and I would have never seen this in a million years.”

Mendez lives with his caretaker, Mike McAvoy, in Gilroy. Mendez’s parents, Josie and Robert Mendez Sr., live in Morgan Hill. Rob Mendez, who said he would like to become a varsity football coach by 2020 and eventually get married, is bringing a group of 24 family members and friends to the ESPYs. Mendez knows he has and will continue to be an inspiration to thousands of kids not just in the U.S., but across the world.

“This is one of those moments where I know I’m here to show kids that it’s OK to be different,” he said. “And that’s a good feeling, to let them know that their differences are OK, too.”