Jonathan Garcia holds off a defender as he tries to create space.
Video Sound bite from Jonathan's interview.
Most toddlers can’t spell determination at the age of 2, let alone show it, but they’re not Jonathan Garcia.
“He couldn’t open a jar after five minutes of trying,” said his mom, Monica Melendez. “After five minutes of trying he went over to a door and after two minutes of using the hinge to pry it open, he opened it. I knew right then and there this kid will achieve anything he wants to in life.” Jonathan was born with one arm. His disability was caused by a rare birth defect called amniotic band syndrome.
Jonathan, now 17 and a senior at Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, has used that same mindset of determination to play the game he loves and his passion in life: the game of soccer.
The 5-foot-9, 140-pound Garcia is playing it well, starting since his freshman year and leading his team in goals and to regional championships three out of the past four seasons.
When you have one arm in the game of soccer, it’s easy to be overlooked, but Jonathan makes them pay every time.
His coach, Paul Escobar, said, “Sometimes teams would see him and if they had never seen him before, would not take him very seriously. In the first 10 minutes he will usually surprise them a lot of the time because he would score. That caught a lot of teams by surprise. We played a couple of teams every year so they knew him already and after that they didn’t take him lightly.”
Escobar highlighted what sets Garcia apart from other players.
“He has top-notch speed, very quick, and he’s got great balance. He’s got a nose for the goal, as he finds himself in the right place a lot of the time. He’s pretty crafty with the ball. He can shoot the ball pretty nice, has good form, and he can lace his shot from 20-25 yards, no problem. He has great work ethic, and is a hard worker. He certainly doesn’t want to be known as the kid with a disability. He wants to be known as a soccer player.”
Pretty remarkable stats for someone who can’t lace up his own cleats before a game.
Luckily he has his best friend of 10 years and soccer teammate Will Jackson for that.
“It’s not that big of a deal, I guess. He’ll be like, ‘Hey can you tie my shoes.’ I don’t really think about it that much anymore. I never really thought about it. He needed someone to tie his shoes and I was like, ‘All right,’” Jackson said.
But Jonathan’s never needed anyone to tie his shoes for the game called life, and Jackson admires that.
“I respect his determination, but more important than anything, his ability to sort of forget that it’s an issue. He’s able to completely forget about it and just have a perfectly normal life, and just to be able to put that past him. His attitude is, ‘I’m going to do what I want to do regardless of the situation with my arm.’”
Garcia’s talents extend beyond soccer. His favorite off-the-field hobby is Xbox, and he’s beating his friends on a continual basis in games and even has videos of his skills on YouTube. Try fathoming how to play with one arm. Garcia described the process.
“I like to play video games a lot. They’re my stress reliever. I play Xbox but I rest it on my leg and then I’m able to use the left trigger with my left foot or left leg. So I can just press down on it and just use my arm for the joystick and I’m fine. I just move it with the joystick with this and press all the other buttons. So I just push it against my left leg and I’m good to go. Except for the left bumper. That’s a little trickier.”
It’s a pretty inspiring thing to hear a kid with one arm say reaching the left bumper on an Xbox controller is a little tricky when he has a hard time doing daily activities that come as second nature to most of us. But Garcia doesn’t see it that way.
“I don’t know any other different way of doing it, so I guess I just accommodated to how I saw fit to do them. I would see someone play video games and I would be like, ‘Oh, maybe I should give that a try.’ And that’s basically the only thing I can’t officially do. But anything else like carrying a bunch of grocery bags or stuff like that, I just carry less. When it comes to learning everyday things like how I can’t tie my shoes, I would compensate by my means of having to get over that and having to learn to embrace what I can’t do and just improve on the things that I can do instead.”
Garcia is a no-excuse, determined kid, chip-on-his-shoulder mentality to prove people wrong. But Garcia has learned to develop a strong work ethic from his mom.
“I have four side jobs, Jonathan has two younger siblings and the father isn’t in the picture. If we want something, all of us chip in to get what we want and figure out a way to do it.”
The type of work ethic his coach admires.
“When we had preseason workouts he didn’t wimp out or pass. He got down on one hand and tried to do them. Whatever he could do, he did. And he did so unwarranted. He’s a tough kid with a lot of grit,” Escobar said.
The kind of grit that even inspires his No. 1 fan, his mom.
“He has taught me a lot. Because of him there’s nothing we can never say we can’t do. Nothing is impossible with him. If there’s a will, there’s a way, and he’s always been that way,” Melendez said.
If you thought playing soccer or doing things with one arm would affect Garcia’s balance, think again.
“I didn’t have to work on my balance. From the moment I was crawling to when I started to walk, my body compensated for what I knew as balance. So I guess if you attached an arm to me my balance would be off as opposed to without an arm. Since I don’t know any other balance, this is how I grew up, how I developed,” Garcia said. Garcia wants to inspire others.
“Here we have a program called PALS. It’s like upperclassmen help mentor freshman when they first come into school and I’m part of that program because I want to teach freshmen. Like, ‘Hey, look at me. I can’t tie my shoes.’ But do you see me having to ask for help every single day to get through the day or accomplish what I want to do. I want to teach others that they can achieve things that they don’t think they can, but they have to find their own way to do it,” Garcia said.
For Jonathan’s essay to get into college, he chose the most uncommon of prompts for the most uplifting of reasons.
“My prompt was, ‘Have you ever failed at anything and if so what have you learned from that experience and how does it apply to you.’ But I chose that specific prompt because I talk about my failures in everyday activities where other people don’t fail like tying my shoes or carrying extra loads or even playing specific video games like Wii, I talk about how my failures of everyday life where some people would write as failures like big things like a school project or a goal I didn’t achieve, but mine is just about tying my shoes. I write about how these failures can attribute to me, and how I’ve learned from these failures and how I have to compensate for them and learn a different way from someone else and how it made me into who I am today,” Garcia said.
Garcia is applying to Tufts, a distinguished university in Massachusetts, where he plans to pursue a major in biomedical engineering or neurology and, of course, play soccer. If you ask Garcia what he plans to do in life you’ll get a sure-fire response.
“It’s always been my dream to continue playing soccer after college, and I plan to do so.”
To Garcia, it’s just another goal he’ll strike into the back of the net.