The pro runner shares his thoughts on coaching teenagers, how his runners are different from previous generations, and his wisdom for saving the environment.
In the new documentary film “Faith in the Future,” pro runner and Brooks-sponsored athlete Mario Mendoza, Jr. confronts what climate change means to him not just as a professional athlete, but as a coach, pastor, and father.
As a high school track and running coach in Bend and Madras, Oregon since 2017, Mario is looking ahead at future generations with concern, hope, and love. In his eyes, it’s about what we pass on — sharing wisdom, opportunity, and legacy to runners.
We sat down with Mario to discuss the challenges and rewards of coaching, what he’s learned from his athletes, and what it means to invest in people.
A chat with pro runner Mario Mendoza
Brooks: What is most challenging about being a coach for you?
Mario Mendoza: It’s a small thing, but honestly the time commitment can be challenging. Practice is from 330pm-5pm. For me it’s a 50-minute commute. Some of the kids need 20 minutes to an hour to just get to practice depending on where they live because it's a big geographical area. But it’s worth it.
Brooks: What is the most rewarding?
Mario: I went to a small high school that's similarly diverse to Madras, so being around these kids feels natural to me. Working with kids that may not have access to strong mentors really tugs at my heart. Coaches can come and go for these kids, and I think being a consistent face for these athletes is so important.
Brooks: When you think about the kids you’ve coached for the last few years, how are they different from you when you were their age?
Mario: What stands out to me with this generation is that they’re genuine. They’re not trying to impress anyone; I feel like it's easy to coach someone that’s being raw and honest. Going through the pandemic at this age had a big impact on these kids. I think back to my experience and at that age and I can't imagine it. I think the last few years molded them in an interesting way — they’re quite tough and have lots of fortitude.
Brooks: How did the runners you coach respond to the changes they were seeing when wildfires began to get more and more frequent?
Mario: The first few years, the kids didn’t think about it too much. But over the last couple of summers, it’s gotten worse and now they’re bracing for it. They’ve accepted what’s happening around them and they’re starting to plan for the possibility of not being able to run outside. The reality is though that most of these athletes don't have access to treadmills, so if it’s smoky like it has been in the past, they may not get in any runs at all.
Brooks: Do you think the younger generation you coach is better equipped to deal with some of these changes going on in the world around us than we are?
Mario: Yes. I am hopeful for them. I believe in them. I’m counting on them to help improve the world for my kids’ sake.
Brooks: What message do you have for young runners about taking care of the environment?
Mario: So many of these big impactful problems that we have, they all come down to small individual decisions. My advice? Each person should care. Each person should take responsibility to leave the least number of footprints to preserve what we have. Volunteer; do trail work; plant trees; use gear that has minimal impact; create a culture that teaches others.
Brooks: What are some things you’ve learned from the kids you coach?
Mario: I’ve lived in this area for about 13 years, and most of my runners grew up here and have been here longer than me. I love nature; I love being outside, but that passion means so much more when you grew up in that place. When I see their love for their home and for these trails, it creates the right kind of attitude for caring.
I’ve also learned that even though it’s a scary time, people can be resilient. There’s plenty to be hopeful for.
Brooks: In “Faith in the Future,” you spoke about investing in people, because you say people are the ones who can enact real change. How can we do that?
Mario: There’s a whole puzzle to solving these big problems. Every person can be a different little piece to that. We’re not all going to be good at the same thing. I’m not a loud person, I’m not going to get into politics, so how can I help? For me it’s a quiet fight where I can help individuals care and minimize the impact on environment but maximize the impact they have on people. Figure out what you’re good at and how you can help. Ultimately when someone has a gift, I believe it’s fully developed when they’re teaching others.
See the film
See how Mario is inspiring the youth he mentors to combat climate change and protect the trails of Central Oregon. Watch "Faith in the Future" below.
Brooks actively supports projects to restore forests destroyed by wildfires and is committed to restoring and preserving natural areas. Our climate change action plan is designed to take the right steps toward ensuring clean air and accessible trails for our future generations. Read more about Our Planet strategy.