DRAPER – Learning to walk means falling a lot for any child. For Tony Melendez, who was born without arms, it meant falling flat on his face time after time, until he learned to tumble and get back on his feet.
That lesson, to keep trying, stuck with him. He wanted to play the guitar, and learned to pluck the strings with his toes. He practiced up to seven hours a day until the result was music. In 1987, when Melendez was 25, he played during Pope John Paul II’s visit to Los Angeles, and the pope urged him to “continue giving this hope to all the people.”
In response, Melendez has traveled to 40 countries and across the United States as a motivational speaker. On Oct. 11, he brought his message to the Salt Lake Diocese Autumn Catholic Teen Social.
“Melendez and his band led the music ministry at the opening Mass and was joined by the youth choir., who had to learn the songs that evening.
Alysa Edwards, a choir member, said learning the new music wasn’t difficult and she enjoyed them. “His songs are really cool. We should try them sometime (at Mass.) They’re happy songs.”
At a workshop in the St. John auditorium after Mass and prior to the concert, Melendez urged the youth to follow their dreams. “If a guy with no arms can do what I do, I know you can do more,” he said.
“It was inspiring,” said Theresa Alcantar, who attends St. Therese parish. “He never lets things get to him.”
“He made me see things I didn’t see before,” said Rosario Perez, also of St. Therese. “You see him and you want to live longer.”
Jordan Wardle, of St. James parish, said Melendez’ presentation made change his attitude toward serving as an altar boy. “I want to be in a better relationship with God,” he said. “I want to start looking up. Not everybody gets to get close to God (on the altar) but I do.”