Without fear: Diagnosed with a rare disease, New Mexican uses his experiences to uplift others

George Mendoza is trailblazing.

Over the course of his life, there have been many chapters – artist, athlete, motivational speaker, author.

Artist and NMSU alumnus George Mendoza at the Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital during the installation of his last art collection, "26 Visions" in 2018. ()
Artist and NMSU alumnus George Mendoza at the Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital during the installation of his last art collection, “26 Visions” in 2018. (Courtesy of George Mendoza)

He’s navigated all of it with grace as the waters ebbed and flowed.

“My life has been an evolution,” he says during an interview from his Las Cruces home. “I keep moving forward and find projects to keep me invested.”

Mendoza was born in New York City in 1955.

“Journey of the Spirit Man” by George Mendoza.

bright spotAt the age of 15, he was diagnosed with a rare, incurable, degenerative eye disease called fundus flavimaculatus. It caused him to lose his central vision and keep only a gray, foggy fringe of peripheral vision. In the center of his view he sees what he calls “kaleidoscope eyes” – intense and changing visual images of fiery suns, brightly burning eyes and colorful pinwheels. These spectacles almost never leave him, not even when he lies down in darkness to go to sleep.

That didn’t deter him as he went on to become a world-class runner – Olympic contender. In fact, he set the record for blind athletes running the mile in 4 minutes and 28 seconds in 1980.

After his running career was over, he put his time into being a speaker to the youth and the disabled in America.

Though that wasn’t enough.

Since the mid-1990s, Mendoza has put pen to paper and tried his hand at writing.

Mendoza is also awaiting the release of his debut novel, “Journey of the Spirit Man.” It is slated for release in May.

 George Mendoza has become a motivational speaker and author. ()
George Mendoza has become a motivational speaker and author. (Courtesy of George Mendoza)

“I really write from a stream of consciousness, which is about 45,000 words in three months,” he says. “Then I put it on the shelf and go to the next one.”

Eventually, he will pick the piece back up and do some editing.

A “Wise Tree” collection piece. (Courtesy of George Mendoza)

“Then I find a good editor to clean it up,” he explains. “I learned this trade secret from Stephen King. I’ll write like a madman for three months and then set it aside. That’s how he’s become so prolific.”

“Journey of the Spirit Man” tells the story of Michael Seymour, who is a good-looking young man who took for granted his status as a popular star athlete, top student and beloved son. Then it all came crashing down. A champion runner, Michael is in college, preparing for a big race, when he finds himself distracted, unable to focus, and then, mid-race he passes out. Not only does Michael lose the race, but he discovers the reason for his fall – he has a rare and incurable disease.

A piece from George Mendoza’s “God’s Heart” collection. (Courtesy of George Mendoza)

Devastated by the news, he seeks to forget everything, at least for one night, and drags his best friend Mark out with him to drown his sorrows, only to have the evening end in tragedy when Mark is killed. But for Michael, this is just the beginning of a long and fantastic journey of self-discovery and redemption.

“It’s a story that is similar to mine,” he says. “It’s really like the stories of overcoming odds. Life is full of challenges and we have to approach each one without fear.”

Mendoza’s writing is influenced by his life, as well as living in New Mexico.

“Being legally blind, I fill that sighted world with my art,” he says. “Those images become figures in my book. I have drivers that will take me on hiking trips and desert rides. All of those places in New Mexico become scenes in the book. I listen to the wind and it speaks to me.”

 A piece from the "Sailing" collection by George Mendoza. ()
A piece from the “Sailing” collection by George Mendoza. (Courtesy of George Mendoza)

In 2013, Mendoza established the Wise Tree Foundation, Inc., which helps promote arts for the disabled.

“I’m also working with Sight Savers of America to make everything happen,” he says. “My goal is to open an art museum in Las Cruces and help people with disabilities.”

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