– 4 February 2019
Decathlete pursues his Olympic dream
As a child, Jorge Mena was running around the streets of Panama City, begging for money in hopes of finding his next meal.
Jorge is still running, but today thousands of people are cheering him on. At 26, Jorge – who grew up in the SOS Children’s Village in Penonomé - is a track and field phenomenon with dreams of one day becoming an Olympian for his native Panama.
“I have found in athletics the opportunity to be someone in life,” says Jorge. “Thanks to all the teachings my SOS family gave me, I have thrived despite the fact that I had a difficult childhood.”
The warmth of a family
Before arriving at SOS Children’s Villages, Jorge lived in a shack with his mother and two of his siblings. Every day, he would go to the streets to beg until one day an NGO working with street children spoke to him and started the process with authorities of placing him in alternative care.
The night he arrived at the SOS Children’s Village in 2000, Jorge recalls a woman took him to a house and offered him food. After he finished, Jorge, who was eight years old at the time, asked if there was more food, and she told him yes. “I just felt happy there was food,” he says.
Jorge settled into life at SOS Children’s Village Penonomé where he lived with his SOS mother Carmen in a house that would soon feel like home. Although shy and anguished at first about his future, Carmen and the others in his SOS family made him feel at ease.
“Where I come from I did not have that love of a family or a mother,” says Jorge. “The aunts, my mom Carmen and my brothers have been my family. I felt that warmth of having a family, someone who listens to you, someone who is with you. I felt I had a real family.”
From Panama to a collegiate star in the U.S.
Sports always was Jorge’s passion. He loved all sports but in 2007, motivated by his physical education teacher, Jorge started to take it more seriously.
Jorge was a natural and started to compete. In 2010, he discovered the decathlon and won the regional decathlon championship two years in a row. He went on to win the bronze medal at the National Junior Athletics Championship and in the following years, he represented Panama in the regional championships in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Colombia, Uruguay and the Dominican Republic.
After finishing high school in 2011, Jorge won a scholarship given by the Panamanian Sports Institute to study in the United States of America.
In the U.S., Jorge continued to be a champion. He studied at ASA College in New York between 2012 and 2013, where he won the silver medal in the 400 meters relay race at the U.S. Regional University Games. He later moved on to William Carey University in Mississippi where he won first place in the decathlon at the Southern States Athletic Conference Track & Field Conference Championship two years in a row - 2017 and 2018.
In May, Jorge graduated from William Carey University in Business Administration, specialising in Information Systems. His next step is pursue a Master’s degree in Information Sciences. He wants to continue training in the decathlon and dreams of representing Panama in the Olympic Games.
“Like any athlete, it would be the greatest achievement to represent my country in the Olympics,” says Jorge. “With everything I've achieved thanks to athletics, my dream has always been to represent my country and lift the name of Panama high.”
While Jorge be proud to represent his country, he knows that others are already proud of his achievements. “Regardless of representing my country, it is also being there and people recognising me and saying ‘I know that boy and he has gone through a lot but still he has fulfilled his dream.’ I want to make them feel proud too.”
Learn more about our work in Panama