In 1980, the Summer Olympics for the Physically Disabled were held
in Arnheim, Holland, with eighteen hundred athletes from forty-four countries
participating. Next to the Moscow Olympics, this was the second largest
sporting event in the world. Among those who represented The United
States of America was George Mendoza, a blind runner who placed fourth in
the 1500-meter race.
George was raised by his mother in New York City. He was an
athlete and honors student, and received acclaim as a wide-end receiver
during football season, a Little League pitcher, and a strong competitor
onthe basketball court. He loved the outdoors, and especially enjoyed the
summer camps of upstate New York and Long Island.
At the age of 15, he developed a rare disease which gradually
destroyed his vision, and in a few months he found himself pronounced
legally blind -- as though he needed a doctor or a lawyer to tell him he could
no longer see. He quickly found academics and athletics virtually
unavailable to him, and his life was completely disrupted. To help him, his
mother left New York, and moved to the remote desert town of Alamogordo,
New Mexico, where he could attend classes at the New Mexico School for
the Visually Handicapped there. At the school, he was introduced to running
by his classmate Winford Haynes, who had already established himself as a
winning blind athlete. Winford told him about the newly-formed
U.S.Association for Blind Athletes, and encouraged him to begin serious
competition. He trained with the track team at New Mexico State University
in Las Cruces, and in 1979 he set the world record for the mile by a blind
runner, at 4:31.7! He went on from that point to his winning performance at
the Olympics for the Disabled in Holland in 1980, and repeated that success
again at the 1984 Olympics, in Long Island, New York.
With his amazing career as a blind athlete behind him, George
dedicated himself to helping others profit by his success. He writes and
lectures extensively on the problems to be overcome by the handicapped,
and how the lessons won so hard may be shared by everyone. His life was
the subject of The George Mendoza Story, a PBS-TV documentary film
hosted by Robert Duvall, and a biography, Running Toward The Light, by
award-winning author William Buchanan. He lives a peaceful life in Las Cruces, sometimes works as a counselor to the
handicapped at the University, and still enjoys taking long runs on the
mountain trails east of town.
Working with New Mexico novelist and historian James Nathan Post, George began a long career writing stories and screenplays. Their published books include the action romance adventure Blinding Speed, about a young man whose life took some of the same turns as George's, and the bizarre and dreamlike fantasy world of Spirit Man.
These days, George is one of New Mexico's most celebrated blind artists. As his vision is not darkness, but a kaleidoscope of unrecogizable shapes and colors, George began to experiment with trying to use his limited vision to paint pictures that would express what his world looks like. His work has been shown in many galleries in the Southwest.