MARYSVILLE — Hundreds of Marysville community members gathered at the Marysville Getchell High School track on Friday, May 31, to honor the memory of 16-year-old student and athlete Juan Mendoza, who was killed in a car accident on Oct. 24, 2011.
The Juan Mendoza Memorial Mile is an event that was held for the first time last year, created by MG teacher and coach Jaci Legore Hodgins, who had Mendoza in one of her classes.
“Jaci had Juan as a student and decided last year that we should host an event to honor him. He was so popular — he was one of those magic kids who everyone loved. Teachers, coaches, staff and students loved him,” said Sheila Anderson of the Marysville Getchell Booster Club.
“We wanted to do something near the soccer field because he was such a talented soccer player. Eventually we settled on the track, doing three events.”
The first event is known as the “Getchell Mile” — an MGHS physical education department invention that equates to roughly 1.66 miles and involves exiting the track to run around the tennis courts and back on each lap. That was followed by a mile run and a one-lap memorial walk.
“The best part about this is that it is a family event,” said Anderson. “The last lap is so everyone can participate — wheelchairs, walkers, strollers, anyone.”
Juan’s younger sister Kristina Mendoza, a sophomore at MG, designed shirts for the runners. The shirts, depicting a soccer ball with a halo and wings on the front, and the words “Drive Safe” on the back, were donned by a majority of race participants.
“I knew I wanted to design a shirt, and I thought of this because I think of Juan as being my little angel,” said Mendoza, who described the difficulty in dealing with the loss of her brother. “It was hard to come back to school,” she said. “This is amazing though. This is a way for his legacy to continue. I don’t want people to forget about him. I want people to come so he’ll be remembered.”
Kristina plays soccer for the Chargers, and said she was influenced by her older brother Juan.
“I got into soccer because of him,” she said. “My older brothers were always my role models.”
When Kristina first heard about the idea of hosting a memorial run for Juan, she was surprised and happy.
“I was excited. I realized how many people really cared for him,” she said. “It’s hard for me to see his friends graduating this year, because he would have been doing the same. But I’ve surrounded myself with great friends, and Jaci Legore has been such a big help to me.”
Mayor Jon Nehring was once again in attendance, both as a community leader and a friend of the Mendoza family.
“We are here to support Juan and his family — they are close friends of ours. Juan and my son Nathan were very close friends and I think it’s important to keep his memory alive,” said Nehring, who plans to attend the memorial mile every year. “I think this is something Juan would have loved and we’ll mark our calendars every year.”