POSTED: JUN 28 2017 11:27PM PDT
UPDATED: JUN 29 2017 06:20AM PDT
MARTINEZ, Calif. (KTVU) - A tight knit community in Martinez is rallying around 22-year-old man who received a devastating medical diagnosis.
Osiel Mendoza has ALS. On Wednesday night, there was an emotional and uplifting benefit held in his honor with the proceeds going to ALS research to find a cure.
It was the first time Mendoza was reunited with the people he calls his second family since his diagnosis eight months ago.
At Hidden Lakes Park Soccer Field, Mendoza was greeted by his former varsity soccer team from Alhambra High.
“It’s hard not to get emotional. I spent four years with these guys,” says Mendoza.
The alumni team is Mendoza in his fight against ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that is often deadly within just a few years.
“Physically, my body is getting worse every single day,” says Mendoza.
ALS kills neurons that control voluntary muscles It results in difficulty with speaking, swallowing and eventually breathing.
On this night, his friends are playing a match to raise money for ALS research a benefit put on by his former coach.
“There’s a lot of people with that diagnosis who would take a different approach. He took a courageous approach to get the word out,” says Mark Eitelgeorge, Mendoza’s former varsity soccer coach at Alhambra High.
“I wish I could be out here playing soccer with everyone but it’s hard to walk now. I can’t run. I can’t play any kind of sport. At college, in the past few months, it was hard to take notes in class,” Mendoza says.
Still, he graduated on June 19 from the University of Oregon.
Mendoza was team captain for Alhambra High in his junior and senior years. A former teammate describes him as a natural leader.
“He’s like a bigger brother to me. I look up to him. He’s a strong person,” says Juan Sanchez, a former teammate and friend.
On a light hearted note before the soccer match, some teammates braved the ice bucket challenge to help raise money for ALS research….
At AT&T Park earlier in the day, Mendoza and others were honored during a pregame ceremony for their strength and work in helping to raise money for research.
Mendoza acknowledges that there are dark days as he copes with the disease.
“At the end of the day, I sit down and can’t help it but break down and cry,” says Mendoza.
But helping him through the darkness is the camaraderie that was evident throughout the years Mendoza spent with his team.
From singing “Lean On Me” after a game, to what his team mates are doing to support his journey now.
“I’m not going to let a disease take anything away from me. I’m going to fight every single day,” says Mendoza.
At the end of the benefit match, the team honored Mendoza by giving him s a captain’s armband.
Mendoza says he’s going ahead with his dreams.
He plans to get married in September. He’s also looking for a job in sports and nonprofit organizations.
Mendoza says there is no time to waste. He wants to live life to the fullest.
To contribute to research to help find a cure click here.