From Peru to Provo, local man shapes wood without the use of sight
PROVO, Utah — Life is all about perception. For Nick Rios, a storage unit can be whatever you make of it.
Situated not far from an exit off the interstate, Rios is hard at work cutting and sanding bits of wood, while an extension cord snakes its way out of the open metal door of his shed. His girlfriend, Susana Fragoso, laughs as she remembers the early days of their relationship.
“For a long time, he kept introducing me as his friend, and I’m like, ‘Really!'” she said. Surrounded by bits of ash and cedar, the two are building a business, one piece at a time.
“Happy for maintain busy my mind, no?” said Rios.
He apologizes for the state of his English, though he makes perfect sense. Rios immigrated here from Peru, where he worked in IT. He says he had a lot of practice reading English, but not much when it came to speaking it.
“In the past, I am reading English,” he said. “Working in computer science, all books in English, in my country. Listen music, in English.
But no speaking in my country.”
He says there weren’t many opportunities in Peru, and he was allowed to move to America, in search of a better life for his daughter and his “grandchildren in the future.”
Woodworking had never even entered his mind. He’d been working at a machine shop, when his supervisor said his work wasn’t up to snuff.
“My job no good,” Rios said, thinking back on a conversation he had with his boss. “‘Hey, what happened?’ ‘I don’t know!’ ‘In the past, you do job is very good, but right now, more mistake!'”
Rios went to a doctor and was referred to a specialist, who delivered some devastating news.
“‘I’m sorry, man.'” Rios said, remembering the words he heard. ‘”This problem is a one million one. Your problem may be in 10 years, you completely blind.'”
Rios was diagnosed with what’s called “genetic retinitis pigmentosa.” He’s now almost completely blind. He says he began to cry, and entered a deep depression. Rios says he’d been determined to build a new life in America, but even his studies of English began to suffer.
“My frustrations made it very hard for me,” he said. “Not working, inside my apartment, I can’t learn English from talking to the wall, talking to the door, talking to the floor.”
“For 10 years, he was very depressed, he was really angry that this was happening to him,” Fragoso said. “And then last year, he kind of snapped out of it. Said, “‘No, I’m going to go to the blind center, going to see what I can learn.'”
Rios went to Utah’s Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, where he was taught how to work without the use of his sight.
He uses a special ruler, which resembles a tube of threaded metal, and practices extreme levels of caution with each step.
Rios is happy to demonstrate his new skills — he can plug and unplug a saw by the touch of a surge protector, and counts to ten after he’s heard the blade stop spinning.
Six days a week, from morning to night, he works in his storage unit, shaping cutting boards and pens for now, with plans to expand his line. Rios’ tiny company, called Blind Gorilla Business, mainly sells its wares at the local Farmers’ Market, but he and Fragoso have big plans for the future.
“What we want to do is assist and have other blind people, get them employment with us,” Fragoso said.
For Rios, life is all about perception. And in a little storage unit in Provo, out of sight doesn’t have to mean out of reach.
“It’s not easy,” Rios said. “But not impossible. This is my slogan.”
Nick Rios can be reached through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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