Don’t let your condition define you!

He may have been born with oculocutaneous albinism (OCA), but 19-year-old Ryan Bockmier did not let that stop him from leading a normal childhood. And when it came time for the ultimate rite of passage – obtaining a driver’s license – he attacked the challenge with his typical determination and zest for life. The San Diego native is now a freshman at San Francisco State University. Before starting his freshman year, he shared some insights on his growing up with OCA and his outlook on life.

Ryan Bockmier, VOC Vision Hero

How have you learned to live with OCA?

For me having OCA is just normal. I haven’t experienced life differently. My parents didn’t treat me differently from my other siblings who have pigment. For the longest time, I didn’t even know I was different. So, for me, there isn’t much to “live with” other than not being able to see certain things sometimes or having to put on more sunscreen when outside.

Ryan at age 1

I think the main thing that I have learned throughout the years is finding friends and surrounding yourself with people who love you for who you are: People who don't mind reading the menu in a restaurant for you or waiting for you to apply that second coat of sunscreen at the beach. At first they might not ask questions as to why your hair is white or why you can’t see as well as them. Most of the time, they are even a little embarrassed to ask, which to me is a good thing, because it shows that they don’t want to hurt your feelings or make you feel different.

What are your hobbies?

This is always such an interesting question for me, just because I always think of the word “hobby” meaning something like building things, racing cars or playing sports, all of which I don’t currently do. Most of the time I either hang out with friends or go on the computer, but only if my friends are busy. It’s not uncommon to get a text at 10 o’clock at night asking if I want to go shoot a game of pool with a couple of my friends or go to the beach and do something crazy like cliff jumping early in the morning.

What was your favorite subject?

My favorite subject in school was always English. Something about writing stories and getting to express my opinion on something has always been an interest, even if I didn’t figure this out until after high school ended. In college, I look forward to being able to write about things that I am interested in, whereas in high school things are very structured and not as engaging.

Do you know what you want to study at San Francisco State University?

As of right now I am majoring in Business Administration Information Systems. It looks at the IT side of business, while also crossing paths with computer science, but with a lot less math, which isn’t my strong suit.

Do you have a career in mind?

For now I am thinking something along the lines of IT or anything to do with computers/technology really. I really like tinkering with computers and figuring out how software works and what it does.

What are you most proud of?

I would say I am most proud of getting my driver’s license. It was something that I worked very, very hard for. I didn’t let a doctor or a set of numbers on a piece of paper stop me from doing something I wanted to do. I want to find out for myself if I am unable to do something. I practiced and practiced to make sure I was ready for both tests, which I passed on the first try. Getting a license and being independent was very important to me. It enabled me to have a better social life; and being able to go somewhere without needing a ride was great. I even got my license before a lot of my friends who have perfect vision! I ended up being the driver of the group which was something I was fine with!

What advice would you give to other kids with OCA or similar vision disorders?

Don’t let your condition define you. Don’t let people saying you can’t do something stop you from at least trying. Meet someone who has OCA too. That’s what helped me a lot… being able to talk to someone about our condition and asking questions about it. It also helps that there is someone else out there who knows what it is like to live day to day with OCA.

Also, it’s important to realize that, honestly, it could be a lot worse. I know at times it may seem that you got the short end of the stick and it isn’t fair that people can see better than you. The way to look at it is that we are one of a kind… no one else can see the world the way we do, and having the sight that we do gives us a unique perspective on the world. Every single one of us is different. Instead of looking at the negative, look at the positive. We have some pretty amazing hair that people with pigment would pay a lot of money for -- we are just born with it! We are all one of a kind.

I am proud to be a Vision Hero for The Vision of Children Foundation. And I appreciate all that the Foundation has done for me and my family. I hope my story and those of other Vision Heroes inspire other kids to pursue their dreams.