Jessica Mendoza has made it her mission to use her personal experiences to encourage other female athletes to pursue their dreams. Her commitment to this cause is clearly demonstrated below in these excerpts from a speech she delivered at the National Softball Association World Series in Ventura, California, July 24, 2013.
“Growing up I played every sport under the sun, and softball was the one that really stood out even though it was my worst sport. There are pictures and videos of me; it's really comical. The ball would just go through my legs; I'd be trying to field ground balls, and my legs were going all over the place. I had these scrawny little legs, so making it to first base was an accomplishment. I'd strike out in tee ball, and the ball wasn't going anywhere. But as a young softball player, I had found something that I was passionate about. The one constant was I had this huge grin on my face. I loved it; all I thought about was playing. No one knew that I was going to be an Olympian and do all these good things.
“I think you need to find something that you're passionate about. Then you have to ask yourself how are you going to stand out. I realized that I was different from everyone, but I was afraid to be who I was until I heard Dot Richardson speak. Dot Richardson is a two-time Olympic gold medalist that got the game winning homerun and who went on to University of Louisville and became an Orthopedic Surgeon. She spoke at my nationals, but the girls there were trying to tear her down saying, ‘eww she's wearing a scrunchy’ and just ripping her to shreds. But she was my idol, and I had a poster of her on my wall growing up. The person on stage was the person that I wanted to be. She was smart, athletic and not afraid to be the person that she was.
“I had a goal in life, and if I lost friends, that was ok because I wasn't like them and who I was wasn't like them. I had to stop being afraid to stand out. If you’re saying that you want to go to college, don't be afraid. And listen to mom and dad. They actually know what they’re talking about. I have two kids of my own, and I'm still listening to my parents. I call them up too just for advice on life, and they still know what they’re doing. I wouldn't be here without them. So don't forget to thank them. There were a lot of days that I forgot to thank them. There were summers in the middle of August where I was still the girl with the ball going through my legs, and we would travel all across the country not doing it because they thought I was going to become some Olympian but because they could see that I was so passionate about it.
“Also, remember to be confident with the person that you are – quiet or loud with big legs or scrawny arms – and realize maybe you’re built differently than all the people you see on TV, but you should be thankful that this is the body that you were given, and you are going to rock it and be proud of it.” •