6 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY JUNE 13-19, 2024 www.montereycountynow.com 831 Fate tried to slow Carmela Cantisani down, but she refused, always wanting to go faster. Born on a rural and primitive farm in Southern Italy with a degenerative eye disease that eventually left her blind, Cantisani would go on in life to conquer a new culture and language in the U.S. and eventually the ski slopes, where she would reign as a world champion Alpine skier. “I love speed, and because I can’t drive, [skiing] was my next best thing,” Cantisani says. The 73-year-old gave up on using a cane at age 25 in favor of guide dogs, because dogs allow her to walk as fast as she likes. She currently lives in Del Mesa Carmel with her husband Gilbert Converset and her standard poodle guide dog, Seymour. Cantisani was one of five children born on the small farm in Italy. “We had no running water and no electricity, and no roads, so everything was very rural, everything was made by scratch, made by hand,” she says. “I just really loved it.” The family was not without hardships. One sibling died at birth, and three of the children, including Cantisani, were born with retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary disease that breaks down the retinas over time. “That was pretty disastrous for the family because they had no idea what to do,” Cantisani says. “On the farm everybody contributed in some way. Whether it was to fill up a jar of water, to go to the field and deliver something, everybody worked as a team.” At age 5, Cantisani was sent with her siblings to a boarding school for the blind in Naples, about seven or eight hours away by donkey ride and trains. It was traumatic to be separated from her parents and the farm life she grew to love, she says. “But little by little I started growing up and managing my life just like everybody else. One way or another, you make do with what you have.” Cantisani came to the U.S. with family at age 13, yet another traumatic event having to learn a new language not just verbally, but also in braille. It was like being “encapsulated in a dark tube of gibberish,” she says. Cantisani went on to college and later came to Monterey to attend the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. She worked many years teaching Italian at the Defense Language Institute. Her world widened more when someone invited her to Lake Tahoe where a group was teaching people with disabilities how to ski. Within two years, Cantisani was winning competitions. She won three gold medals representing the U.S. in the Winter World Championship for the Disabled in 1986. She won two bronze medals in the 1988 Winter Paralympics representing Italy. She retired, but for years helped train guides for other blind skiers. In addition to her many other achievements, Cantisani added specialty food entrepreneur to the list in 1996. “In the ’90s everybody was crazy about nonfat, so to make people happy I created four low-fat vinaigrettes that were made with puree of fire-roasted vegetables,” she says. The puree replaced the fat, while still giving the vinaigrettes mouthfeel and a depth of flavor. She and her husband launched their company, Carmela’s Gourmet, and began manufacturing and selling the vinaigrettes. They ran the company for about 12 years, until the Great Recession began in 2008. Cantisani detailed her triumphs as well as her life’s struggles in a memoir published in 2022, I Can See the Moon, But Not the Stars. She took the title from a time when her father, seeing a very young Cantisani pointing at the moon when she was able to see shapes and light, expressed hope she would be able to see. Her mother said, “She can see the moon but she’ll never be able to see the stars.” Cantisani never let her disability stop her. “I consider myself to be very fortunate for a lot of reasons,” she says. This story is an extended version of a profile in the 2024-2025 Living Well magazine, a resource guide created by the County of Monterey Area Agency on Aging in collaboration with Monterey County Weekly. Copies are available at the AAA office (730 La Guardia St, Salinas), most local senior-serving nonprofits, community centers and care centers, as well as at the Weekly headquarters (668 Williams Ave., Seaside), and online at montereycountynow.com. Need for Speed Blindness did not stop Carmela Cantisani from a love of the ski slopes—or life itself. By Pam Marino Carmela Cantisani at home with her guide dog Seymour. She jokes that her dog is “Seemore” and she is “See-less.” Her positive outlook on life contributed to a career as a teacher, championship skiier, specialty food innovator, author and more. “You make do with what you have.” TALES FROM THE AREA CODE DANIEL DREIFUSS LET' S CELEBRATE! 2024 BUSINESS EXCELLENCE AWARDS Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce GET TICKETS! BUSINESS EXCELLENCE AWARDS 2024 Celebrating Excellence in the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce Business Community! Thursday, July 18, 2024 6:00 PM - 9:00 PM Monterey Conference Center VOTING BEGINS JUNE 3!