Blindness no obstacle for member
By Coty Dolores Miranda
Dora Cozzolino is an inspiration.
A member of Sacramento Power Squadron for a little more than three years, she’s already held the offices of secretary, administrative officer and now executive officer.
But the 52-year-old, 4-foot-11-inch dynamo is also blind.
“I see blindness not as a handicap but as an obstacle,” Cozzolino said with a confident smile. “And obstacles are just temporary road blocks that usually have a way around them.”
Finding her way around obstacles has been a lifelong journey for Cozzolino, who was born three months premature. Excessive oxygen in her incubator destroyed her optic nerve when she was an infant, but her mother, Guadalupe Nava, was not one to let her youngest daughter miss out on childhood experiences.
“My mother was very adamant about my experiencing life—making sure I had all the chances to do everything that most kids do,” Cozzolino said, but she admitted her dad, Eduardo, was more hesitant about her tomboy exploits.
“They had a few arguments about that,” she laughed. “My dad wanted to protect me, but my mother wanted me to get out and try new things. I’m really thankful she did.”
Cozzolino recalled riding her first two-wheeler while visiting her father’s family in Mexico City. Other adventures during her childhood and young adult years included swimming, camping, hiking, climbing trees, playing baseball, and skiing in Aspen, Colo., and the Sierra Nevadas.
“The only limitations I had were those I set for myself,” she said.
While attending Pasadena City College in California, Cozzolino fell in love with horses and horseback riding. She bought the first of her two horses in 1974.
“I had to take three buses to get there, but I’d go out and ride every day after school,” she recalled. “I loved riding them.”
Proud and free
With her sporting background, it’s no wonder Cozzolino found her way to boating after moving to Sacramento, Calif. But she said her husband, Mike, who is also blind, prefers to stay put on dry land.
Cozzolino bought her first boat in 2004—a 12-foot bass boat that has since been replaced with the aptly named Proud and Free, a 15-foot craft with a custom cabin. The boat has become a refuge from her busy life co-running the couple’s business.
“I love it—the wind in my hair, even the smell of the water that lingers in the cabin days afterwards,” Cozzolino said of boating. “I find it extremely relaxing; it’s like a different world. Yes, you can still hear the traffic, the trains, but when you’re on the river you’ve got the wind and the sun, and it’s very invigorating but relaxing at the same time.”
Friends help Cozzolino pilot her boat on the Sacramento River, but she likes to take the helm when the waters around her are empty.
“I love boating because in a way, I feel connected with nature. The water almost seems to have a personality all its own,” she said. “When I got into the squadron, some people just couldn’t figure it out. They’d come up to my friend and ask, ‘Why does she have a boat?’ Well, I’m just living my life the way I choose and the best I can.”
As befits a squadron officer, safety is a key issue aboard Cozzolino’s boat. Everyone, including her Labrador retriever, Randy, dons a personal flotation device.
“I really enjoy being involved in the Power Squadron, because it gives me the chance to help others. There are so many boaters who are not aware of the safe boating classes the Power Squadron offers,” she said. “When the opportunity presents itself, I talk with boaters and explain how important safe boating is and about our classes and how beneficial they are.”
Just go boating
Since her involvement with Sacramento Power Squadron, Cozzolino has inspired her fellow members, including squadron vessel safety check chairman Russ Kaiser.
“What is most remarkable about her is her apparent lack of fear. She takes her boat out into waters that most would not travel on in such a small vessel,” he said. “Dora hasn’t let her challenges get in her way. She’s an inspiration to us all and makes us all want to take on new challenges as well.”
Dave Hinders, assistant national secretary, concurred: “Three years ago, I met Dora at a district rendezvous and was truly impressed with the fact that not only had she taken the boating course and become a squadron member, but she arrived [at the annual Sacramento Delta gathering] by boat.
“While we regard what Dora has done as remarkable,” he added, “Dora’s attitude is she’s just going boating.”
Cozzolino takes the attention with aplomb. She said any recognition of her accomplishments only reinforces the fact that being blind doesn’t mean your vision must be limited.
When not boating, Cozzolino runs Flash Trans Enterprises, which produces board games that both visually impaired and sighted people can enjoy.
In addition, she and her husband run Access Solutions Inc., which produces speech synthesizers for computer users with speech and visual impairments.
Coty Dolores Miranda is a freelance maritime journalist. This article originally appeared in the May 2007 issue of Sea Magazine.
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