Osieo Mendoza (left), Bella Mendoza (middle left), Jack Higgins (middle right) get an autograph from 49ers defensive lineman D.J. Jones (right) after practice in Santa Clara, Calif. on Aug. 7, 2019. (Courtesy C.J. Peterson)

Niners host ALS patients for Dwight Clark Day celebration

SANTA CLARA — For the last three years, Osieo Mendoza has been dealing with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, which currently affects roughly 16,000 people in the United States.

The fast-developing neurodegenerative disease has the University of Oregon graduate confined to a motorized wheelchair as well as a machine which assists him in breathing.

“It’s really f******g s****y,” Osieo told the Examiner. “But I do my best to make the most of it.”

Through all of this, though, one thing, along with his family and friends, that’s helped the 24-year-old cope with the life-changing disease has been 49ers’ football and his relationship with the late Dwight Clark.

On Wednesday, the 49ers hosted Osieo along with several other ALS patients and their families as a part of Dwight Clark Day to celebrate the life and legacy of the 49ers legend, who passed away in 2018 after a three-year battle with the disease.

“It’s great entertainment watching football with Dwight Clark having ALS,” Osieo said. “It just inspires you to keep fighting and knowing that the team is supportive in trying to raise awareness is really comforting.”

Osieo, a Martinez, Calif. native, attended the University of Oregon, where he studied sports business management. As the vice president of the Warsaw Sports Business Club, the largest student organization on the Oregon campus, he dreamed of being in the front office of a professional sports franchise one day.

Through his work on campus, Osieo gained contact with several high-profile Oregon athletes, including Marcus Mariota, who served as the Duck’s starting quarterback from 2012-14.

Though Mariota left Oregon after being drafted by the Tennessee Titans, the pair have stayed in contact with one another from across the country.

“They still talk and he’s flown him out to Tennessee a few times,” Brendan Mendoza, Osieo’s relative said.

Perhaps the most significant contact Osieo made, however, was after he graduated from college in 2016.

In October, just a few months after earning his degree, Osieo was diagnosed with ALS. In search for treatment, the then 21-year-old began working with the ALS Therapy Development Institute, an organization dedicated to finding viable and effective treatment options for those with the disease.

Looking to promote the awareness of ALS, Osieo, a lifelong 49ers fan, reached out to Clark through Twitter in hopes of gaining his support and involvement for the organization.

Clark, who was diagnosed with ALS in Sept. 2015, was most recognized for hauling in “The Catch” with 51 seconds to play in the 1982 NFC Championship game, which propelled the 49ers to their first of three titles in the 80’s.

Through these social media exchanges, Osieo and Clark began to build a friendship. And soon after, Clark and his wife Kelly invited Osieo and his wife, Bella, to their Santa Cruz home for dinner.

“They’re really down to Earth,” Bella said. “So it was nice just to go and have dinner with another family that was affected by ALS but treated you like a normal person.”

The two families kept in close contact for the next year as Dwight’s condition worsened, which prompted the Clarks’ move to Montana, giving them the space they needed for the staff of nurses and caretakers required to fit his needs.

Despite the move across the country, the Clarks continued to open their home to the Mendozas for support as Dwight and Osieo were undergoing the same drug trial to fight off the disease.

“[Kelly] even opened her house up to me to go up to Montana,” Bella said. “Just to take a self care weekend if I ever needed to.”

In June 2018, Dwight passed away at his Montana home after a three-year battle with ALS. But despite the devastating blow, the friendship between the Mendozas and Clarks lived on.

Shortly after Dwight died, Kelly reached out to Bella asking her if she and Osieo would like to have Dwight’s service van.

“Kelly texted me randomly one day and asked if we wanted the van,” Bella said. “I made the trip up to Montana with a friend and we brought it back home.”

Along with the van, which now helps with Osieo’s transportation, the Mendoza family holds the memory of Dwight as well as the guidance and support of the Clark family dear to their hearts.

So when they got the email invitation from the 49ers asking them to attend practice to honor their late friend, there was no hesitation to say yes.

“It’s pretty awesome because it really shows me and my family and friends that they really care about beating the disease,” Osieo said.

Dawning his No. 87 jersey, Osieo, along with his wife, brothers, mother in-law and friends, were able to watch San Francisco practice and embrace a team and person that has impacted their lives so widely.

“For Osieo as a sports fan, he idolizes those guys,” Bella said. “For him, I know this all means the world.”

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