Rashard Mendenhall Thinks He Can Dance

Photo courtey of the Steelers

Move over, Lynn Swann. There's a new Lord of the Dance in town. In fact, he's throwing down such a mean moonwalk to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" that you can almost hear Bengals wide-receiver-turned-failed "Dancing With the Stars" contestant Chad Ochocinco crying all the way from Cincinnati.

While Swann famously took ballet lessons in the 1970s to improve his signature balance and body control, current Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall spends the off-season cutting rugs.

mendenhall

Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"I do salsa and Chicago stepping, which is a form of ballroom dancing," says Mendenhall. "I started taking classes when I got hurt during my rookie season."

In 2008, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis delivered a ferocious hit on Mendenhall that fractured his shoulder, ending his season in his first NFL start. It was a worst-case scenario-the kind of hit that can submarine a career before it really begins. Mendenhall watched the team's Super Bowl XLIII celebration in street clothes, an afterthought.

"I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason," Mendenhall says. "I learned a lot being hurt, and now I'm fully healthy and ready to rock and roll."

Without the ability to lift weights, Mendenhall signed up for a dance class at Vella Dance Studio in Bridgeville to stay in shape. He was surrounded mostly by teenage girls, who proved to be formidable competition.

"It's tough being 220 pounds and trying to keep up with dancers who are stick-thin," Mendenhall laughs. "I feel like it helps a lot with your body control-strengthening areas you wouldn't normally strengthen. As a running back, you have to be limber."

In a profession beset by runaway machismo and outsized egos, Mendenhall cuts a distinctive figure. He doesn't drink alcohol-never even had a drop. He spends his downtime reading poetry, mostly Langston Hughes.

"I go to museums a lot-even the Children's Museum," he says in hushed tones after a mini-camp workout at the Steelers' South Side practice facility.

For a first-round pick with unlimited potential, Mendenhall is inexplicably humble. Perhaps it's because he knows how quickly life can change. Growing up in a single-parent family in the Chicago suburb of Skokie, life came at him fast.

"I remember Rashard stopped showing up to practice out of the blue," recalls Joe Galambos, Mendenhall's fifth-grade coach. "I was worried, but then I found out he and his brother had to baby-sit his younger sister because his mother had to work. He had a lot of responsibility for a young man."

Despite commitments at home, Mendenhall grew to become one of the top football prospects in the state. He found a mentor in Galambos, who coached him through high school. "Financially we struggled, and coach would have us sell candy and stuff like that to afford equipment," Mendenhall recalls.

But after the highly touted running back's sophomore year at Niles West High School, his mother, Sibyl, a youth minister and teacher's aide, was unable to afford a new lease in Skokie. She planned to move the family to Chicago's troubled South Side, but Rashard and his older brother, Walter, protested. They didn't want to leave their friends and teammates. Fortunately, Galambos had a solution.

"My family decided that we had plenty of room in our home, so Rashard and his brother were able to come live with us," he says. "They were treated just the same as I treated my own two boys. There was never, ever one issue with anything-in school or after school."

"Without coach Joe, I may not be where I am today," Mendenhall says. "He helped me with things on and off the field."

When Mendenhall isn't busy teaching dance workshops in his hometown in the off-season, he often visits Galambos. "Rashard's just a regular guy who keeps the same old friends around him," says Galambos. "He's just a very simple, unselfish, wonderful person to be around. I think his attitude rubs off on everyone he's around."

For the sake of the Steelers' locker room, let's hope so.  

 

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Pittsburgh's Top 10 Things to Do in May

Pittsburgh's Top 10 Things to Do in May

These are the things we guarantee are worth your time, from dog walks to barbecues.
Best Doctors in Pittsburgh

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh

Our exclusive list of the region's 584 leading physicians across 76 specialities.
Endless Challenges: 48 Remarkable Hours with 8 Pittsburgh Doctors

Endless Challenges: 48 Remarkable Hours with 8 Pittsburgh Doctors

Follow eight physicians over two days as they perform surgeries, consult on end-of-life care, treat accident victims, discuss hospital programs –– and then reset and do it all over again.
The Commoner — Too Much of a Good Thing?

The Commoner — Too Much of a Good Thing?

Chef Dennis Marron designs a menu of modern-American fare at The Commoner in the downstairs space of Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

C'mon, You Know You Want One. 18 Yorkies Need New Home

C'mon, You Know You Want One. 18 Yorkies Need New Home

Deciding who ultimately gets them is no easy task.
Impress Your Friends: Share Cool Stats about Pittsburgh's Steps

Impress Your Friends: Share Cool Stats about Pittsburgh's Steps

Did you know that if strung together, Pittsburgh’s public stairways would reach three-quarters of the way to the summit of Mt. Everest?
Somewhere, Paul Newman is Smiling About Johnstown

Somewhere, Paul Newman is Smiling About Johnstown

The town where the iconic actor filmed a cult classic has been rewarded for its hockey fervor.
Well-Deserved Honors for Pittsburgh's Ultimate TV Cook

Well-Deserved Honors for Pittsburgh's Ultimate TV Cook

They're throwing a party to honor Chris Fennimore and you're invited.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Pittsburgh's Top 10 Things to Do in May

Pittsburgh's Top 10 Things to Do in May

These are the things we guarantee are worth your time, from dog walks to barbecues.
Best Doctors in Pittsburgh

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh

Our exclusive list of the region's 584 leading physicians across 76 specialities.
Endless Challenges: 48 Remarkable Hours with 8 Pittsburgh Doctors

Endless Challenges: 48 Remarkable Hours with 8 Pittsburgh Doctors

Follow eight physicians over two days as they perform surgeries, consult on end-of-life care, treat accident victims, discuss hospital programs –– and then reset and do it all over again.
The Commoner — Too Much of a Good Thing?

The Commoner — Too Much of a Good Thing?

Chef Dennis Marron designs a menu of modern-American fare at The Commoner in the downstairs space of Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh.
What Inspires Ray Gastil's Careful Plan for Pittsburgh's Future

What Inspires Ray Gastil's Careful Plan for Pittsburgh's Future

How will the city’s new planning director stoke Pittsburgh’s next generation of developments?
Dare to be Different — PittGirl's Better Ways to Use Social Media

Dare to be Different — PittGirl's Better Ways to Use Social Media

You can use social media to change your life and the lives of those around you in a positive way.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module