He’s a champion wrestler, a medal-winning runner and a concert pianist.
One other thing about Mike Zorick: He’s blind.
Zorick, 70, has been an Indio resident since 1980, and has overcome obstacles that would surely have stopped others. Shortly after his premature birth, in Hartford, Conn., a medical technique used at that time led to an overdose of oxygen and left him blind.
Zorick’s parents, wanting him to escape discrimination, sacrificed and saved to afford him the best possible opportunities to overcome his disability.
“People would look at my eyes and see nothing else,” he recalls.
He was educated at Oak Hill School for the Blind through high school. In the fifth-grade, Mike began wrestling.
“I was kind of forced into it by the recreation coach,” Zorick says. “He said, ‘If you don’t wrestle, you can’t come to PE anymore.’ I ended up beating an undefeated champ and won the tournament!”
Zorick remembers his parents teaching him that, in spite of being small, he should never start a fight—and if he still got into a fight, he should never let the other guy finish it.
“I knew I had to work harder than anyone else,” he says.
Those efforts certainly paid off. Zorick has won numerous competitions around the United States, and his Indio home’s walls are covered with medals and certificates.
“I moved to California after high school and was three-time California state champion in Greco-Roman wrestling,” Zorick proudly beams. He has received numerous awards in several weight categories, as well as for judo and weightlifting.
While still in high school, Zorick also began running.
“My coach said it would build me up for wrestling. I was on the high school track team in 1963,” he says. “I was running a two-mile event and started to really like long-distance running.” Once again, medals followed.
“I ran with a partner for a while,” says Zorick, “but my uncle made me a special device with an extension that could hug the rail, so I could run on my own around the track.”
Zorick says he was a good athlete but not a good student, yet he continued his education, getting an associate’s degree in music and physical education at Los Angeles City College before transferring to UCLA for his bachelor’s degree. He also received a teaching credential in Florida, has taught classes at California State College, Los Angeles, and served as an assistant coach at La Quinta High School.
“I had to sue to get the teaching credential in Florida,” he says. “My biggest challenge has always been that I knew I would be rejected by the sighted world, no matter what I did. I just always do the best I can and let the chips fall where they may.”
Overcoming yet another hurdle for someone without sight, Zorick began playing the piano in fourth-grade.
“I was in a music class for blind kids,” he says, “and I started with Braille music. Now, I just learn one hand at a time. For concerts, I have to memorize about 120 pages of music.”
Zorick focuses on classics by composers like Chopin and Brahms. “I like music with harmony and melody,” he says. “One piece I still need to learn is Brahms’ Rhapsody No. 4.” He has played more than 20 solo piano concerts at venues including Foursquare Church and the Family YMCA of the Desert.
Zorick’s lifetime partner is Nancy Noble, a former movie actress and artist originally from Chicago, who has devoted herself to supporting Mike and his varied endeavors. One needs to be around them for only a few minutes before their genuine love and support for each other becomes apparent.
“I made a list of 10 things that I knew I needed in a partner,” Zorick laughs. The list included being a team player; an honest person with good morals and a love of truth; willing to not live with animals or children; a good helpmate; a non-drinker and non-smoker; a runner or bike rider; and able to drive.
Zorick and Noble met in Los Angeles when she became a reader for him.
“I thought it would help my acting,” she says. “Mike needed someone to take him running, so I rode a bike he had. We were friends for two years before we decided to commit to each other. My father told me not to marry him, but my mother said she knew we would be together forever and told my dad to get over it.
“With Mike, to meet his conditions, I even got rid of my cat,” she laughs.
Zorick’s life has led to many lessons—of value to those both with and without sight. He has written a book, Making Weight,and has a websitethat includes a 17-minute video of him talking about his life. He and Noble have spoken to thousands of students about his athletics, his music and the challenges of being blind.
“Students ask lots of questions,” says Zorick, “but the one that always comes up is, ‘What is it like to be blind?’ I always answer, ‘It’s normal.’ I can feel what things look like. Even though I can’t see faces, I remember voices, so it’s frustrating if people don’t identify themselves when we meet. And I hate it when waiters ask Nancy what I want, as if I can’t answer for myself.
“Whenever people said I couldn’t do something because I’m blind, my attitude was always, ‘I’ll show you!’ I’ve always taken discouraging people and used them to my advantage. I had to find out for myself whether I could do something.”
What would Zorick want to see first if he could somehow gain his sight?
“Of course, I’d want to see Nancy.”
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays at noon on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.