An athlete and also an artist, author, and motivational speaker.
Visual impairment: Due to damaged nerves of the retina.
This is the story of a man who challenged his fate to become a distinguished painter, an Olympic participant, an inspirational speaker, a published writer, and most importantly, a man who is not defined by his limitations but his achievements. He is George Mendoza from USA.
Like any other kid of his age, George was growing up as an active boy with a creative bent of mind who enjoyed outdoor sports. His involvement in track and field events in all his school activities made him a very popular figure. His future seemed bright as he grew into a promising young athlete, until he was struck with a rare eye disease at the age of 15. The nerves of the retina got damaged taking away most of his sight and within few months he was declared legally blind. Undoubtedly, it was sheer terror, anger, and hopelessness that gripped George as he contemplated a life of dependency and disability. In the darkness of his eyes he saw his future plans being washed away like a sandcastle.
The transition from sight to blindness wasn’t easy for George. This traumatic incident led him into a shell and it was his mother who helped him overcome all obstacles. “She was the greatest inspiration in my life” he says.
They left New York and moved to a small town named Alamogordo in New Mexico where George could attend classes at the New Mexico school for the Visually Handicapped. With encouragement and support from his teachers and his mother, George got back into athletics. He was introduced to U.S. Association for Blind Athletes. He saw his boyhood athletic dreams coming true as he trained with the track team at New Mexico State University, in Las Cruces. George was quick to set a world record for the ‘mile by the blind runner’ at 4 minutes and 31.7 seconds. Just as he developed his skills in track and field events, his self confidence returned and his desire to communicate and meet people was back. There was no looking back for George from then on.
At the age of 24, George performed brilliantly at the Olympics for the disabled in Holland in the year 1980. That was not all; George repeated that success again at the 1984 Olympics, in Long Island, New York. Today, George is confident enough to say, “Just because you’re handicapped, doesn’t mean you can’t do anything.” He says that his athletic activities really played a big role in his adjustment to his handicap.
With the help of some renowned Hollywood producers and directors, George has made a documentary about his training and participation in the blind national and international events. The movie depicts his rigorous training schedule of running four miles each every morning and evening, lifting weights twice a week and swimming once a week. It also highlights the fact that being blind doesn’t mean end of the road; there is much more to life.
“The film gave me a lot of hope and was very fulfilling” said George. He later used it to raise funds for all sporting events for the blind.
With his amazing career as a blind athlete now behind him, George has dedicated himself to helping others gain from his success. He writes and speaks extensively on the problems to be overcome by the physically challenged. “I am blind and ‘I see’ magnificence, triumph, genuineness and masterpieces every single day. So can you.”
He also uses his creative skills to paint. Yes, that’s right! George paints, and paints with a passion that proves that he has a unique inner vision, which touches the souls of those who see his paintings. In his exhibition titled Vision of the Soul, he exhibited more than 30 of his paintings. His work was applauded by the then First Lady Laura Bush and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.
George has documented his life’s struggles, fears along with his inert desire and determination to achieve in various books that he has authored. One of the popular one ‘The George Mendoza Story’ has been made into a half hour documentary film which was aired on a TV show, hosted by Robert Duvall.
In his biography, Running towards the Light, George is very explicit about not letting any obstacles overpower one’s way of life. Instead, he feels, the only way to deal with it is to accept it head on and work towards finding a solution to live with it.
Even though he now lives a settled and a peaceful life in Las Cruces, he finds time to work as a counsellor to the physically challenged at the University. George may have retired from active running, but he hasn’t forgotten his first love—he still enjoys taking long runs in the mountain trails and continues to inspire.
To know more about George Mendoza, or to get in touch with him, kindly visit his website.