Olegario “Ollie” Cantos is blind – but he has an incredible ability to see life’s bigger picture.
The 47-year-old was born two months early and diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity, a condition that can lead to complete vision loss.
As a child, he was bullied and socially isolated.
But that didn’t stop him from changing the world.
Ollie works in Washington, D.C., for the American Association of People with Disabilities. He’s always pushed others to unlock their full potential, regardless of what society perceives to be “limitations.”
In 2010, he met three very special boys – and now, they call him “dad.”
This is their incredible story.
'They needed a dad'
Ollie first learned about Leo, Steven and Nick through a friend from church. They’re triplets – and all three were born blind.
“My friend asked me if I would mentor them,” Ollie explains. “They were in a rough home environment, and their mother had trouble taking care of them. From what I was told, they had nobody to look up to – and my friend thought it would be a good fit for us to meet.”
That’s all it was supposed to be – but their relationship turned out to be bigger and stronger than anyone could have imagined.
“They needed a dad,” Ollie says. “And I always wanted kids. Leo, Steven, Nick and I became really close really quickly.”
The boys were 10 years old when he came into their lives. The similarities were striking – they, too, were born prematurely and diagnosed with the same condition that caused Ollie’s blindness.
“We related on all that,” he says. “The boys were bullied really badly. Other than going to church and school – where they were bullied - they were shut in. They could hear the other kids playing outside and they weren’t allowed to go out ... so in October 2010, I dedicated my life to being there for them.”
But it wasn’t a smooth transition.
“Their mother was basically feeling that they were becoming closer to me than her,” Ollie explains. “But she didn’t take into consideration that her neglect was the reason I was there.”
Eventually, she came around, and in 2016, he became their legal guardian.
'I just want them to be the best ...'
For years, Ollie has managed the boys’ schooling, skill development and overall care.
“Before I adopted them,” he says, “I would go spend time with them every day after work and they came to stay with me on weekends.”
Now, the triplets are 18 – and thriving.
“They were in Boy Scouts since they were 12,” Ollie says. “I wanted them to learn how to build their own support system. My goal has been to empower them to grow. I didn’t want their success to be based on what I did for them.”
The triplets completed all their requirements and recently became Eagle Scouts, an achievement that’s very prestigious. It took lots of hard work and determination – but Ollie wouldn’t let them take shortcuts.
“They never seek exceptions to the rule,” he stresses. “These boys have shot rifles by themselves, they drove three-wheelers at the Jersey Shore on the dunes … I just want them to be the best people they can be.”
Ollie credits his own parents for pushing him to be independent – something he works to instill in his sons each day.
“My mom and dad never let me get away with anything, and I tried,” he recalls. “When my mom would ask me to clean something, I’d say ‘I can’t see it.’ And she’d tell me to use my hands to find it. They expected the same out of me, as if I could see.”
So what’s next for the triplets?
According to Ollie, the world should expect big things.
“All three are going to Boston in November to learn advanced independent living skills, and then they are all going to college,” the proud dad says. “I want them to be contributors to society … to continue doing things for other people on a large scale.”