SAN DIEGO – Seeing Francis Parker offensive coordinator Rob Mendez roaming the sidelines on Friday nights, you’ll notice he looks different: No arms, no legs and in a wheelchair.
But just as his new book, entitled “Who Says I Can’t: The Astonishing Story of a Fearless Life” shows, Mendez can overcome almost anything to accomplish his goals.
“I was born this way,” Mendez said. “I was blessed to be able to live with a purpose and show people that life is about perception and I think that when you really focus on your abilities instead of your disabilities, life can be great. It’s all about your perception and how you look at it and since day one, I’ve always thought about what I’m able to do and not what I’m unable to do.”
And Mendez can coach football. The 33-year-old started his first season this fall calling plays for the Lancers’ offense. Born with an extraordinarily rare condition called tetra-amelia syndrome, Mendez knew he wanted to have sports in his life.
At first, he thought he might go into broadcasting.
“That was my first love was broadcasting and announcing and the competitor in me wanted to be a part of a team,” he said. “So here I am coaching football. It’s a great sport to coach with your mind because a lot of it is all mental. You gotta know the plays before you execute the play. I’m very blessed to be able to use technology as well as my abilities to integrate this offense. I write with my mouth so I use this stylus and do a lot of my football plays.”
His love of football began in high school in his hometown of Gilroy, near San Jose. After graduating at age 18, his coaching career began as the offensive coordinator of his high school’s freshman team.
Now, with his sixth team and 16th season coaching football, he cruises up and down the sidelines in a custom-made chair.
“When you look at him, he looks like – to the eye it’s a bit different, “ Parker senior quarterback and safety Gervy Alota said. “But he gets on the field and gets in his rhythm. He’s yelling, he’s coaching, he’s teaching. You don’t even notice the wheelchair. You don’t even notice any of those things.”
Mendez aspires to become a head coach someday. He’s also started his own business as a motivational speaker and writer.
His first book, which will be released Tuesday, tracks his life through the emotional and physical challenges that he has overcome, ones that he continues to attack with each passing day.
“We’re all here for one purpose which is to get a CIF championship, if not a state championship,” Mendez said. “So I really admire the boys to really push that aside and sometimes they’ll be helping me with a drink and they’re expecting me to grab it from them, and it’s actually pretty funny because they forget about it. I think it’s one of the coolest parts about coaching high school football is really showing people – even with the disability – I call it a different-bility because I think we all have disabilities so we gotta somehow kill that word.
“With my different-ability it really exemplifies to the freshman and sophomores as well as the seniors that life is perception and you gotta use your mind in it.”
Mendez will hold a book signing from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 25 at The Piazza della Famiglia in Little Italy.