Monday, April 26, 2010

SFGate: Courtney Mazzola: blind community ambassador

This article was sent to you by someone who found it on SFGate.
The original article can be found on here:
Friday, April 16, 2010 (SF Chronicle)
Courtney Mazzola: blind community ambassador
Meredith May, Chronicle Staff Writer

Courtney Mazzola, 28, already has more on her resume than most people do
at the end of their careers.
The San Francisco massage therapist has a growing somatic psychology
practice, has visited 10 countries, volunteers at San Quentin Prison and
is also an accomplished horse jumper, jujitsu fighter and spokesmodel.
Her drive stems from what others could consider a setback: Mazzola was
born legally blind.
"There's a definite assumption by sighted people that I'd want to have my
sight," said Mazzola, who works with her seeing-eye dog, a 12-year-old
golden retriever named Tess.
"I don't feel I need to be fixed, and, in fact, I wonder what I'd be doing
if I hadn't been born legally blind."
Mazzola's message is on point, honed after years of being the face of the
blind community. Before she was 2, she literally was the poster child for
RP International, a blind research center in Southern California where she
grew up. She attended telethons and news conferences with her parents and,
as a preteen, performed in rock videos to generate funds to study her
particular form of blindness - retinitis pigmentosa - which causes blind
spots on the retina.
Mazzola sees objects as if they were shadows through a frosted shower
door. By definition, because she needs to be 20 feet or closer to see
objects others can see from 200 feet away, she is considered legally
blind. Spotlight
The RP gig was bittersweet; it took a toll to be in the spotlight so long,
but it also impressed on her that she had no limitations.
By 14, she was state-ranked in English horse jumping, learning to aim the
horse by her trainer's verbal cues. A scout for the U.S. Paralympic Team
invited her to try out for the 2000 Olympic Games in Australia, but she
turned it down to go to high school and be a "regular kid" for a while.
But regular was hard to do - during high school, she was tapped by an
agent to appear on a pilot for a Discovery show about amazing teens, and
by the time she had graduated, she had become a certified masseuse by
taking courses at Cal State Northridge.
While earning her bachelor's degree in psychology at Northridge, she
learned to surf and outrigger in Hawaii but still regrets skipping cliff
diving because she couldn't persuade her friends to go with her.
By graduate school, Mazzola had fallen in love with traveling and
discovered a British company, Traveleyes, that pairs sighted guides with
blind travelers.
"The way sighted people have to describe things to blind people, they
learn to take things in differently and notice more so they can
communicate," Mazzola said.
Most recently, Mazzola traveled to Egypt, where she crawled through
tunnels in pyramids and was given special permission to touch the
"Some were chiseled in, some popped out. I felt part of a foot and a leg.
The guard took my hand and ran it over the ancient writing and gave me the
names of the gods I was feeling," she said. Travel writing dreams
One day Mazzola hopes to add travel writer to her resume. She envisions a
book of stories about how she sees the world, based on her trips to
Mexico, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Italy, Guatemala, Canada, London and
the Dominican Republic.
As soon as she finds the time. She just finished an internship as a
somatic psychotherapist at the Center for Somatic Psychotherapy, a
low-cost clinic in San Francisco.
Nights, she waits tables at Opaque, a San Francisco restaurant completely
shrouded in darkness. She leads customers to their tables by having them
put their hands on her shoulders.
"In the restaurant, my being blind becomes relevant. Sighted people look
to me for help," she said.
It's also relevant to the inmates at San Quentin, who meet with her weekly
to talk about being different, overcoming shame and staying positive.
"A lot of people come in here and attempt to talk to us, but they don't
have a problem in the world, so prisoners are not going to open up," said
Troy Williams, who is serving a sentence of seven years to life for a
kidnapping and robbery conviction. "Courtney is real. She may have a
disability, but we have a disability of being incarcerated. In that, we
can relate."
Mazzola never asked to be an ambassador for the blind community, but she's
often the first blind person most people meet.
"This is the role I fall into," she says, "so it's important I live my
life full tilt."
E-mail Meredith May at ----------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright 2010 SF Chronicle

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.