Blinded after two tragedies, Nozawa’s will to live a full life continues undeterred
Dr. Randall George Nozawa is living proof that a person can do everything right only to suffer horrific events that stymied decades of hard work and left him blind. The two most gruesome tragedies he suffered would make the fire-breathing Godzilla buckle in bitterness. Not Nozawa. He’s grateful just to be alive.
Japanese, Nozawa had played high school football in Honolulu and later became a professional body builder. When he moved to Washington, the muscle-bound Nozawa enrolled at the University of Washington’s dental school, studied hard and faithfully graduated. Yet years later, after opening a handful of dental clinics, when he could finally afford the lifestyle he had always wanted, a tree came crashing down and foiled all his best-laid plans.
It was the first of two tragic events that would change his life forever.
“You may call it a tragedy. I call it adversity. Misfortune is just disguised as an opportunity,” Nozawa said.
Before getting to the details of his two spectacular events, it’s amazing to note how Nozawa says, without eyes he is living his dreams now. He works as a professional and personal development advisor, speaker, wealth coach, business strategist and author. In fact, he is currently accepting motivational speaking engagements, but more on that later.
A LIFE FOREVER CHANGED
The first “opportunity,” as Nozawa calls it, was a near-fatal car wreck on his daughter’s 13th birthday, Jan. 11, 2003. While driving his luxury car to her party, he was run off the road, a tree pierced the windshield and the branch punctured his skull, destroying one eye, damaging the other.
During his resultant and prolonged stay in the hospital, and as he took a year to learn to walk again, his wife Debra Nozawa hired temporary dentists to keep the clinics open. Yet when the businesses performed poorly under the temporary staff’s care, family finances plummeted and with all of his medical bills accumulating, Nozawa felt he needed to return to work.
That’s when Nozawa realized he could not perform his dental duties to the high standard that he was accustomed. Even with assistive devices for the seeing impaired, he felt his dentistry skills were now sub-standard and that’s why he closed his clinics.
The accident presented Nozawa with other challenges too. “You can recover from a broken bone or sprained ankle, but things like getting into a car wreck, where you have a tree branch stuck in your head, having your head remodeled so you don’t look like a freak and learning to walk and talk again…” Nozawa said embracing that kind of opportunity is not for the weak in spirit.
Yet not knowing how he could make a living as a blind man, Nozawa began pulling from past experiences. In high school, he had presented himself to the football coach by asking: “Where do I sign up?” and soon as the coach suppressed a laugh, thanks to Nozawa’s 5-foot, 7-inch and 140-pound frame, Nozawa quickly added, “I run really fast!”
Once in the game, Nozawa not only ran fast, but determined to body-slam the larger players on the opposing team regardless of whether they held the football or not. That caused them to constantly look out for the crazy little guy who acted like a behemoth monster, and the distraction Nozawa created made them less capable of catching the ball. It also threw off the opponent’s game enough for Nozawa’s team to repeatedly win.
Similarly, once Nozawa graduated from high school he began pumping iron. As more and more women noticed his expanding physique, he felt increasingly inspired to follow Arnold Schwarzenegger’s example and began consuming a high-protein and high-fat diet for his competitive edge. Yet Nozawa refused to use steroids and he competed with men who did.
For work after the wreck, Nozawa also pulled from the medical training he earned as a dental surgeon and began teaching Pilates and yoga. That’s how Nozawa met an older couple that would introduce him to his second life-altering “opportunity.”
Caught in the middle of the couple’s domestic violence incident one fateful night, John William Branden first shot his wife, Turid Lee Bentley, dead then shot Nozawa in the head from 12 inches away before finally shooting himself. The crime shocked the community of Gig Harbor where it occurred, and received its due amount of attention in area newspapers. Looking back on it, Nozawa said that getting shot feels like thumping your forehead with the heel of your hand – it does not hurt. He did not yet know that the bullet had shattered and bore a hole through his palate, destroying molars, nearly severing his tongue, and destroying his only eye. All he knew was that he could not see and he was bleeding.
As a former dentist, Nozawa now makes jokes about being angry over losing his molars. Yet at the time nothing about the scene was amusing. Because Nozawa’s tongue was almost completely severed, surgeons worked hard to reconnect it. Now Nozawa practices speech exercises every day and while he sounds quite normal, he admits that he still gets frustrated about his lisp, which is why he practices enunciating even more.
Missing both eyes, Nozawa has had to get used to moving about indoors and out. Shortly after the shooting and recovery, he realized that he desperately needed help learning to navigate so he signed up for Washington State’s Department of Services for the Blind.
“With the inefficiencies there, with people working for the state, I did not get into the program until October,” Nozawa said. “It took 10 months to get admitted.”
At blind school, Nozawa stayed in an apartment offered through the Orientation and Training Center, in South Seattle. There he learned how to maneuver with a cane, how to find addresses, cross the street safely and navigate a kitchen, among other things.
“When you use a cane, it’s hard to walk a straight line,” Nozawa said. He spoke of the chirping sounds at cross walks that are supposed to help the blind cross the street but said without sight, he can only hope that approaching vehicles come to a complete stop.
A requirement of his government-sponsored training was to get certified to walk in public, but Nozawa said he felt he should be able to travel the sidewalks alone. While he admits he often walked into parked cars and such, he found it absurd that someone reported him to Services for the Blind staff for walking around blind without certification.
Another part of the blind schools program was for Nozawa to take a woodshop class. Nozawa said he hates loud noises and with the saws running he told his instructor, “You know, Bronson, I’m blind and if I start losing fingers I’m going to be f***ing pissed off.”
The instructor assured him that the equipment was completely safe to use. So once Nozawa resigned to learn woodworking skills, he insisted that the cedar-lined horizontal chest that he was expected to make must have a rounded top on it, just like the chests that Nozawa had seen in the movies. The instructor protested because that would make the project much more complicated, but Nozawa persisted and now owns that very heavy, round-top, cedar-lined, wooden chest that he made.
A BUSINESS BUILT ON INSPIRATION
These days Nozawa has global plans for his business, Transformational Kaizen Institute for Personal Freedom. Indeed, he works by phone and offers advisement over the Internet to clients from all around the world. He advises businesses in employee development and retention, in meeting long-term goals and in growth.
“My signature program is a nine-step success blueprint that I have named Transforming Adversity Into Opportunity (TAIO),” Nozawa said. “This is the success formula that I use with small and large businesses alike, for those who want to become entrepreneurs and for those who want to succeed in personal growth.”
He went on to say that personal growth could be something other than business related, such as in having a better and more rewarding marriage, improving personal health, and/or turning unrequited dreams into a life lived. Currently, he works with Tacoma’s House of Matthew, a nonprofit that provides homeless individuals who want to get back into mainstream society with both shelter and advice. “Celebrity CEO Jeannette Twitty is the creator of this organization and asked me to structure the personal development part of her nonprofit,” he said.
Regarding his home life, Nozawa is just grateful that his family has stuck by him. “My wife Debra had to do a lot after I was in the car wreck and again after getting shot,” he said. “We went from awfully rich to rock-bottom penniless and almost homeless.”
Debra Nozawa now owns The Ruston Chapel, for weddings and social events. She is also the executive manager of Picasso Catering in Tacoma. Yet for a while there, as she stood by her husband through all the emotional and physical challenges of his rehabilitation, things were very difficult for the whole family. Instead of lamenting the struggles that changed his family’s dynamics, Nozawa now admits that dentistry was never his true life calling anyway.
“Dreams do really come true, but you have to believe it before you can see it,” he said. He has made his own dreams come true by helping others pursue their life aspirations. In his free, 14-page book “Precipice of Potential,” which can be downloaded from his website at www.drrandallgeorge.com, Nozawa asks provocative questions to help readers examine their own lives more closely like “What do you do that fills you with joy and excitement?” “When is the last time that you gave, something, anything, freely without expecting anything in return?” “What did you do with your last 20 dollars?” Certainly food for thought.
Folks who want more information may e-mail the doctor at firstname.lastname@example.org.