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Kellen Mendez Is Ready to Represent His Country

The Longview runner will be part of Team USA this summer at the Special Olympics in Berlin.

By Allison Williams April 5, 2023 Published in the Summer 2023 issue of Seattle Met

Though he counts football as his favorite sport, Kellen Mendez practices his 800 meter runs at Mark Morris High School track.

Image: Mac Holt

Most days, Kellen Mendez runs the short road outside his Longview home, the asphalt dotted with gravel, before it meets a main arterial. To prepare for the 800-meter dash, he fits spurts of training a packed schedule of work, school, volunteer shifts with a local organization called CARE—not to mention being a 19-year-old boy with video games to play and friends to text. Come June, Mendez will be one of two Washingtonians on Team USA at the 2023 Special Olympics World Games in Berlin. Diagnosed with ADHD as a child, he found focus in all things sports, eventually competing with Special Olympics Washington. One state gold medal later, he was hand-picked for the global event. President John F. Kennedy’s sister Eunice founded the Special Olympics in the 1960s to celebrate athletes with intellectual and physical disabilities, and like its namesake the summer edition of the World Games is held only every four years. Dressed in a neat shirt and tie for his daily volunteer shift, Mendez’s eyes get wide at his summer plans. “I'm happy and proud to be an American,” he says, “and go represent us.”

The coaches say I'm really coachable—you know, I don't throw fits. I can handle criticism very well.

Besides track, I do softball, sometimes golf. I do bowling, basketball, and football. Playing football is my all-time favorite.

But I felt like I had more energy for the distance running.

I do want to win, but also I'm not that competitive. My friends and my family can tell you that I am not the one that gets very angry.

I actually high five people. At state this last year, I ended up waving to the crowd, and my dad's like, "Go!"

Special Olympics, they want you to have fun and stuff. There's a phrase that we have: "If I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."

ADHD is my disability; my mom asks me to do something and I’ll have trouble with getting distracted.

Something catches my attention. I go squirrel—my mom says I go squirrel a lot.

CARE is Community Access Reaching Everybody. We're trying to get people out, mainly disabled people out in the community.

Everybody's welcome. We have cornhole, we have board games, game systems. It's just fun and kind of a social time.

Clients with disabilities, you know, they don't quite understand. I try to be like, hey, what's going on? How can I help you?

You can't get can get too mad at a person that has some errors in their brains; they sometimes get confused.

Mendez at Lake Sacajawea Park, Longview.

Image: Mac Holt

I feel like people should take notice of people with disabilities, because they're very special people. They deserve all the love.

My biggest dream job: I want to become a sports commentator. Or my second option is becoming a pastor at a church.

I am a Christian. That that's a big thing for me; I spread the word.

I text my friends a lot of Bible verses, just give them a bright start to their day. Sending courage and knowledge that they're safe and that they're worth something in life.

When I found out that I was going to Germany, it was after a flag football practice. My face was actually stunned because I was like, "Is this really happening?"

It means so much to me, knowing that I was the non-sociable kid back when I was in elementary school.

I’ll be with God, with my family, with my friends—there by my side, and pushing me to do my best.

I want to show what the USA is capable of doing.

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