With a flash of blonde hair, a twinkling smile, and a warm, friendly voice, Katie Rizvi makes an impression in every room she enters. Katie was born in Hungary and joined her husband in humanitarian efforts in Eastern Europe in the 1990s. This month, her English husband Shajjad Rizvi received an MBE for services to charity and to the British business community in Romania. He and Katie have been working for decades to make a change for children and teenagers across Europe. Read more
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It is 11:40 in the UK, 12:40 in Spain. Marcelo sends me a message, he is ready. A couple of minutes after that, I receive a phone call from him. He starts talking to me in Spanish in a kind way, as if talking to a close friend.
Then, we change into English and we continue with the conversation. Marcelo tells me about his childhood. He was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1997. In 2003, when he was five years old, his family moved to Santiago de Compostela, in the North West of Spain. After that, he describes his childhood in a curious way: “I’ve been all my life having sight, like absolutely normal sight. Watching everything, skating, seeing everything around me…”
Marcelo begins speaking about the event that changed his life for ever. In June 2015, when he was 17, he started losing sight in his right eye. At that point, doctors did not know what was going on, even Marcelo was not aware of his own condition: “It was a pretty confusing month for me, because I didn’t know what was happening”. By November, he began to lose his vision in his left eye.
Marcelo keeps talking about his state and how doctors did not think he was going to be blind: “They told me my optical nerves were affected by a virus, but they didn’t know at all. It was just like a thought of them.”
After a brief pause, Marcelo tells me about his genetic disease: Leber hereditary optic neuropathy. This gene transfers from generation to generation, but it only affects men. The disease stars in one eye and then moves to the other “and then it gets worse”. He also explains that there are different cases: some people with this disease have a good percentage of sight and they are, somehow, able to read, but Marcelo’s situation is different:
He continues describing his life and how in April of 2016 it started getting worse: “I was in my house, pretty depressed”. After that, he cheers himself up by talking about something that is really important in his life, music. He used to play the guitar before getting blind, but he put more effort into it when he began losing his sight: “I started playing sad songs and that stuff” he laughs “I don’t know, it is really cool to play music being blind and feel the sound”
But Marcelo was not alone in his battle. He describes the unconditional support of his parents and his skating friends, and how one day his mother introduced him to a blind friend of hers who changed Marcelo’s standpoint: “Blind people can do everything, they can go to school, use computers, mobile phones, everything like, really normal. And I don’t know, I guess that pushed me to go outside and be happy again.”
Next, he talks me through how he started skating again. Marcelo, with the help of his white cane, decided to go to the plaza where he used to skate, but without his skateboard. He describes how his friends pushed him to get on his board and how it was like “starting from the beginning”.
He also explains that his friends helped him to learn new tricks, like the kickflip, and how he could have not done it without them, because he could not know if the board was flipping on the right direction: “It was really fun to learn with them around me and supporting me.”
Marcelo, also known as the “Blind Rider” on Instagram, with a following of over 50,000 users, tackles the social media topic from a humble perspective: “skateboarding has also supported me a lot with people from around the world that follow me and like my videos”
The “Blind Rider” continues by defining how being blind has changed his perspective in life: “Well, being blind maybe it’s like something bad at first, but it can give you a different point of view” says Marcelo laughing. He finishes by explaining the way in which he meets people now, which has changed completely, as he pays more attention to personality now: “that’s pretty cool actually, not focusing on the physical appearance”
The phone call ends like it started, talking in Spanish while laughing, as Marcelo comments how weird it was for two Spanish speakers to maintain a conversation in English.