first_img “We’re a close, loving family,” says Rigo, an electrician by trade, alongside his brother Nick. “One Saturday we had 20 members of our family show up to train with Juan, including all his little nieces and nephews. It was beautiful to see.” Juan still can’t talk about that trip up the Arizona mountain on the backs of his family members without choking up. “When we got to the top we all held hands and thanked God for the opportunity to be together, and pull together in such difficult times. It meant so much to me.” The Mendoza brothers will begin the L.A. Marathon in March far behind the starting line, where Juan begins with other wheelchair contestants. They will catch up with their little brother around the 8- to 10-mile mark when his arms are weary and his strength is flagging. When he needs a strong shot of support from his brothers. “We have a saying in the family – ‘You have the heart of an Aztec,”‘ Joe said. That’s what they remind their little brother when they reach him. You can do it. Keep going. You have the heart of an Aztec. “Last year, they gave me high fives as they passed me, saying ‘C’mon, brother, you can make it,”‘ Juan said. `’I could feel a surge of energy go through my body, but I was waiting for another guy in a wheelchair. I wanted to make sure he was OK. I stayed with him for about a mile, then told him I was sorry, but I needed to go. I had to catch my brothers.” And that’s what Juan Mendoza did. One by one, he caught and passed his brothers – waiting for them at the finish line. Telling them all they had the heart of an Aztec. Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Dennis McCarthy, (818) 713-3749 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Nick Mendoza knelt as his brothers Joe and Rigo lifted their youngest sibling, 30-year-old Juan, out of his wheelchair and put him on Nick’s back. Then Nick started the 1 1/2-mile trek up the mountain near their sister, Rosa’s, home in Arizona. After a few hundred feet, Joe took over for Nick. Then brothers Rigo, Sergio, and Oscar took turns – along with a few adult nieces and nephews – carrying Juan until they reached the top of the trail. The Mendoza family is close. Real close. “My whole family, especially my brothers, all supported me after the accident, and never let me think there wasn’t anything I still couldn’t do with them – even run up a mountain,” says Juan, who lost one leg and severely damaged another in a 1998 car crash. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGift Box shows no rust in San Antonio Stakes win at Santa Anita Two years later, Juan entered the Los Angeles Marathon as a wheelchair contestant. And when his brothers found out Juan was training for the 26.2- mile course, they did the only thing they could do: They trained with him. Every weekend, you can find the Mendoza brothers training in Griffith Park, with Juan setting the pace in his wheelchair. “When we saw how much his heart was in this, we knew we had to encourage him the best way we knew how,” says brother Joe, a painter. “That meant running the marathon with him.” Training for the L.A. Marathon has been some of the most powerful therapy he’s found to overcome the tragedy that also left one of his children in a wheelchair, says Juan, who owns Paul’s Cafe in Tarzana. “After a few months in the hospital, I knew I had to do something with my life so I started training. When my brothers found out, they showed up one day to start training with me.” last_img

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