Marcus Mendoza (center) and his friends.
Marcus Mendoza is a tough kid. Like many young wrestlers, he remembers the day he took up wrestling, but with added reason: it was the same day that he learned his father had leukemia.
Mendoza, 16, is a Bronx native who lives in the projects with his mom, two younger sisters, an uncle and a grandmother. Space and money are tight. He wrestles at Herbert H. Lehman High School, a public school in the Bronx, as a junior. This is Mendoza’s first year wrestling, but he is already feeling the positive effects of the sport.
“Wrestling is a sport that changed me as a man, spiritually, mentally and physically,” Mendoza said. “I met new people and coaches who are like family to me.”
“I used to give up easily if I knew I wasn’t good at something. If a thing wasn’t within my reach, I wouldn’t reach for it. When I started wrestling it affected the rest of my life. I started treating life like a wrestling match: never give up until the last few minutes are up.” Wrestling is also keeping him physically active. By his count, he’s lost more than twenty pounds since he picked up the sport. Mendoza says that wrestling helps him feel mentally tougher and more capable of striving for his goals. “I’m more comfortable about myself, with the person I am and the person I’m becoming.”
Not only is Mendoza tough, but he’s also driven: on a Monday evening, he attended Beat the Streets’ practice at the Manhattan Training Center even though it was the off-season. He has aspirations to become the captain of the Lehman Lions his senior year. “I think I’m the only one on the team wrestling off-season,” he noted, showing that such responsibility would be well-placed.
Mendoza does more than wrestle. "I still find a way to give back to the community." He's part of a program called "The Stage is Yours," which brings acting and theatre to kids who would otherwise not have opportunities to participate in the performing arts. Mendoza himself benefited from the program as a child. “I love giving back. It’s just a certain thing that I’ve learned throughout life.”
It can be hard finding the time, but in various ways Mendoza helps the kids put on productions and have fun. He brings his experience from acting since he was young--including in "The Wizard of Oz" and "Fiddler on the Roof"-- to being one of the acting coaches, currently for a version of "Romeo and Juliet." "If they need any acting advice, I'm there to help and support them."
Mendoza enjoys seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces when he takes them out to movies or other outings. “They’re great kids and I love being with them…it’s like being at home with my sisters and my family. It makes me feel very comfortable…I enjoy being with them every second."
“When I go to college, I want to be a theater major, but I also want to keep wrestling.” For Mendoza, wrestling is one way of showing his respect for his family and theater is a special passion. He’s considering a number of schools, including Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, Washington, and all are places where he can continue wrestling as well.
Mendoza’s father, who was himself a wrestler, is on chemotherapy now. The way Mendoza puts it, he’s “wrestling for his life.”
“I would do anything to make him proud of his only son,” Mendoza said. “Even though I might struggle, I find a way to fight hard in my studies and the sport.”
And Mendoza is equally devoted in his volunteer work with the kids in the theater program.
"I'm trying to keep these kids happy and in a very safe environment where they don't have to be outside all the time and trouble to their parents." With all the life changes, Mendoza is proud that he can remain optimistic about his wrestling, his career goals and his commitment to giving back to others. “I’m trying to keep these kids happy and in a very safe environment where they don’t have to be outside all the time and trouble to their parents.”
Mendoza has been coming to Beat the Streets on and off for some time and consistently in recent weeks. BTS Coach MarcAntoni Macias sees potential and has already witnessed strong improvement. “He has been growing as a person and pushing himself harder to be better in life.”
Everyone here at Beat the Streets is wishing the absolute best for Marcus and his family.