When Adam Mendoza took to the track at Mike A. Meyers Stadium in Austin on Friday afternoon, he knew a lot of people were rooting for him.
Twenty-two members of Mendoza’s family were in the stands, all wearing identical shirts. Family members and his friends back home who couldn’t be in Austin were waiting to hear how he did in his race at the state track meet.
Mendoza, a senior at Pilot Point High School, made his fourth-straight appearance at the state track meet Friday, running his signature race: the 800 meters. He placed sixth in the 800 at state as a freshman and won the gold in both 2017 and 2018. He qualified for the 2019 Class 3A state meet with a first-place finish at the Region II meet and entered Friday’s race with the fastest qualifying time among the nine runners who made it to Austin.
As he warmed up for the race, Mendoza thought about all the people who were counting him to win that elusive third gold medal.
“I like to warm up and then sit back down, just to get a quick workout in,” Mendoza said. “That is when it hit me: Dang, I have won it twice and a lot of people were hoping I would win it again. It wouldn’t be a disappointment to me if I lost, but it would let a lot of people down that were high on me to win.”
Mendoza didn’t disappoint, pulling past San Antonio Cole’s Connor Frank down the stretch to win the race with a time of 1:57.35, slightly slower than his qualifying time of 1:57.13. Frank entered the race with the second-fastest qualifying time of 1:57.72.
“I didn’t know who Connor Frank was before the race, but I did know he was the best; the whole season, he had been running [1:57s],” Mendoza said. “Coach [Jeff] Price felt like he could run faster because he wasn’t being pushed.”
Mendoza drew a favorable lane assignment, and 100 meters into the race, he eased into first place ahead of Frank. The two jostled for the lead through the first turn and into the first stretch before Mendoza let Frank pull into the lead at the 400-meter mark.
“I felt some wind on the side and didn’t want to get hit with it, so I let [Frank] take it and try to take it back at 500 meters,” Mendoza said. “I just coasted behind him. I felt like if I kept fighting it with him, I would waste more energy versus letting him have the wind.”
Frank sped up with 300 meters to go but was unable to hold off Mendoza down the final stretch.
“I sped up at [with 75 meters to go] and saw that he was still in front of me,” Mendoza said. “I was afraid that if he sped up, I might not catch him. If I am going to do this, I have to do it now.
“That is when I changed a gear and gave it everything I had, because I knew it was my last race.”
Mendoza put a little space between himself and Frank, but the finish was close.
After the race, Mendoza found his mother, Lori Mendoza, in tears. He also looked at his phone and found a text from his uncle Juan that said: “Good luck. You better have won when you read this.”
Price, who coaches the distance runners at Pilot Point High School, was as proud as Mendoza’s family. He coached Mendoza for four years in both cross country and track.
“It has been awesome to coach Adam for four years,” Price said. “He has been the leader of the track program for four years. I am so happy he was able to win his third in a row.”
Mendoza, who proudly notes that he is three-quarters Mexican by heritage, will run cross country and track next year at North Central Texas College, but he plans to keep running with those who follow him in Pilot Point. He hopes his three gold medals will be a testament to what can be accomplished through hard work.
“I hope that they see that I, a Hispanic, went out and did big things,” he said. “I hope kids at the intermediate school say, ‘Wow, I want to be like him.’ I hope that Hispanic kids [realize] that they can achieve big things. I hope to inspire other kids.”