By Hale Hughes
WOODVILLE—If you’ve ever encountered Woodville senior Carrington Marendes, it’s a safe bet that he made an impression that you’re most likely to never forget.
Marendes is an imposing figure. His massive chest, biceps and forearms have the legitimate appearance of a full-time body builder. Marendes also has kind, soft-spoken demeanor.
He has always had an affinity for sports. Hometown fans talk about how he moved around the basketball court as a small child. It’s easy to recall the highlights, but there were some dark days too. None is darker than the night he learned of the fate his older brother, Brandon Hartt. Hartt died when Marendes was in third grade in 2009 and 8 years old.
“My mom explained to me in a way that only an elementary grade school kid could understand,” Marendes said. “She said, ‘You know how sometimes a person goes away and doesn’t come back?’ She said, ‘Brandon won’t be able to come back’ as tears streamed down her face.”
“I’ve always tried to act and compete in a manner that would always make my mother proud. It is that drive that has always pushed Marendes to continue to compete.
Marendes will be the first to tell you that his first love was football.
“In fourth and fifth grade, I played flag football and that was my first involvement in organized sports. I was the quarterback,” he explained. “My arm was so strong I could just throw over other kids. I loved playing football. I was ready play tackle football with the other kids when we grew out of flag football, but I was advised that real injury might happen and my doctors and those closest to me advised against it.”
That was the first time that Marendes’s condition dictated his decisions.
You see, the accomplished athlete is not like other kids. It’s obvious, but it’s far from the first thing that someone sees in Marendes. He was born with Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency (PFFD).
This rare condition affects the hip and legs. It commonly causes the absence of a femur and kneecap and shortening of the leg bones.
“Having this disability has pushed me a lot more when I was younger, competing in the yard and the court with my brothers,” he said.
All older, his brothers Christian, Michael and Brandon each had their own significant impact on young Carrington. “I’d get mad because they wouldn’t take it easy on me. I’d lose a lot to them. I’d get frustrated and upset because I had the same competitive fire that they did and there were times when I would just want to give up.”
It was during those frustrating moments that Marendes said that his brothers were the first ones to ask him, “Why are you stopping? Why are you quitting?”
Even as a young boy, his brothers would say he could do more than other kids his age.
Unable to play organized tackle football in junior high, he turned to playing basketball.
“I played in the local youth league and played outside my wheelchair the first year and then as I grew, I played within my wheelchair the second year.”
His voice changed as he said what happened next.
“Some parents of the other players were cautious and worried about my wheelchair having contact with opposing players and I was disallowed to finish playing in our local league with my friends and that was a huge disappointment. I couldn’t believe it.”
Marendes was forced to be creative and resourceful to find venues and leagues that would let him play.
Marendes took on the manager role for the school’s football teams that would bring him close to the game.
As he grew, Marendes traveled to Houston for health care. It was during one of these visits that an almost anonymous person became one of the most influential people in his story.
A person that Marendes to this day doesn’t even know the name of, a receptionist and a comment she made to him. “I had a follow up appointment at the Shriner’s Hospital,” Marendes said, “a receptionist said to me, ‘You look like a basketball player’,” to which Marendes replied that he played multiple sports. The receptionist then went on to tell him about a Houston area wheelchair basketball team, a team that piqued Marendes’s interest.
Adapting to the new playing style wasn’t automatic.
“It was really tough in the beginning — learning what plays worked and how to maneuver against other competitors and with my teammates. There is a method to it that you have to learn,” he said. “All I did my eighth-grade year was learn.”
With a lot of support from teammates, Marendes got a starting role for the TIRR Memorial Hermann Hot Wheels team his freshman year.
He decided to add track and field to his athletic endeavors once he entered high school. He competing in the shot put, and both the 100 and 400-meter wheelchair dash events with moderate success.
In addition to his wheelchair basketball coach Trice Ham, Marendes cited then assistant football coach and track coach Davin Nelson (now the head coach at Daingerfield) for working with him in track and field.
“Coach Nelson was the first one to hold me accountable and make me take track and field seriously. I naturally had some speed, but he made me begin to work for endurance. I’ll always appreciate him for that.”
During that freshman year is when another dark chapter in Marendes’s story happened.
“That whole day just felt off,” he stated as he began to remember the details that followed next. “We were traveling to Kirbyville on the bus for track meet and we were going around a curve. Like other kids, I was kinda dozing on and off and I felt the bus fishtail.” Marendes continued to recall how he remembered what happened. “I looked out the side window of the bus only to see the highway in front of me like through a windshield of a normal car and knew immediately we were sideways.” Marendes said.
“I was in the very back seat on the left side of the bus. I saw and felt the bus begin to tip and I grabbed the seat as the bus went over. The bus flipped a couple times before landing back on its wheels.
“I remember as the bus was rolling, I grabbed someone from mid-air and just held them back to me and my seat.” Marendes then explained the aftermath.
“When everything came to a stop, the back door was still closed and because of my proximity to the door, I knew it was up to me to get it open and give the other student-athletes an opportunity to escape the chaos. I opened the back door and jumped out and others followed me.”
Amazingly, there were no fatalities and the injuries sustained were relatively minor considering the catastrophic event.
Marendes said the bus wreck made him realize that time is not a luxury, but rather a precious commodity that should not be wasted.
“I saw the community come together in a way that I had not personally seen. It made me want to compete for my town and the people in our community to represent the hope and strength I saw in them following that bus wreck. It was hard.”
The next year he qualified for the state track meet where he silvered in every event.
“I was so focused on winning that I really wasn’t having any fun.”
Then Justin Havard became one of his key influences.
Havard developed a real relationship with Marendes. Then Havard designed some custom wheelchair workouts to improve his strength and endurance.
“Coach Havard helped me to step back and realize that the pressure was a privilege, and not to focus and enjoy the moment of just being there and enjoy the pageantry and exclusivity of qualifying for the state track meet,” Marendes said, “That’s when I started having fun again. I began to enjoy and appreciate those who competed against me and have learned to make good friendships with them.”
Marendes’s junior year was so successful, it’s not likely to be topped anytime soon.
He was a part of the National Championship Wheelchair team and was named as the national tournament MVP.
Later that year, he won his first UIL gold medal, making him a 400m state champion in Austin.
That success continued to spill over into his senior year. Marendes was again named as the national MVP in Wheelchair basketball this year. Marendes defended his state title in the 400m at the UIL State Track and Field Championships and added another gold in the shot put, giving him nine state medals over his high school career.
Marendes will graduate this week from Woodville High School as the most decorated athlete in the school’s history. The word “can’t” just isn’t in his vocabulary.
One of the final chapters of Marendes’s high school story is his influence for someone else.
Former Boys Basketball Coach Reggie Williams was a huge influence Marendes and his brother Christian. Just Marendes’s junior year, the coach was involved in an automobile wreck that has since left him confined to a wheelchair. Now it is now Marendes who has inspired Williams to cope with his condition.
Marendes will attend University of Texas at Arlington and major in Kinesiology. He will compete with the UTA Mavericks wheelchair basketball team affectionately known as the “Movin’ Mavs” and graduate with hopes to be one of the first wheelchair players to coach able-bodied athletes.
The Movin’ Mavs have a rich history of leading the nation in wheelchair basketball. The summer Paralympics (in which wheelchair basketball is organized,) is set for Toyko in 2020, Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles in 2028.
While Tokyo may be a stretch due to Marendes’ youth, Marendes firmly believes that Paris and Los Angeles are within his ability.
“I feel like when that time comes, I will make that team. I know my competitive drive. Looking back, I know what has driven me and has put me on this path. I know what feels like to have been beaten and to be a champion.”