By Kristina Houck
Growing up, Alexa and Nicole Finzi didn’t enjoy Halloween. They didn’t like being outside when it got dark. They couldn’t see.
“All my friends really liked Halloween and going out trick-or-treating, and I hated it,” Nicole said. “But as a kid, I just thought not being able to see in the dark was normal.”
At 18 years old, the identical twins of Rancho Santa Fe were diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited, degenerative eye disease. Today, Alexa and Nicole have near 20/20 vision with limitations in dimmer settings, but the disease causes night blindness and a progressive loss of peripheral sight that can lead to blindness.
“Initially, it was a state of shock and denial,” said Alexa, whose father lives in Del Mar and mother lives in Rancho Santa Fe. “It was definitely scary to think about the possibility of being older, having a family and not being able to see my kids’ faces.”
“I try not to think about what could happen and just focus on the fact that I can see right now, but I know, in the back of my mind, it’s there,” Nicole added.
Three years ago and just six weeks after being diagnosed with RP, the Finzi sisters participated in the San Diego 5K VisionWalk for Foundation Fighting Blindness, a nonprofit organization that funds research and clinical trials to discover preventions, treatments and cures for people affected by RP and other retinal degenerative diseases. Their 20-member “Double Vision” team raised more than $40,000. By the next year, their team doubled in size and raised more than $66,000.
Now 21 years old, Alexa and Nicole are co-chairs of the sixth annual event on Nov. 9 at NTC Park at Liberty Station.
“That first walk — Nicole and I absolutely fell in love with it,” said Alexa, who also co-chaired last year’s walk with her sister. “It’s a very different experience to be surrounded by people who completely understand what you’re going through. You don’t know everybody when you’re there, but it’s this giant support system that you never knew existed. It’s a really awesome feeling.”
The Finzi sisters graduated from Canyon Crest Academy in Carmel Valley and are now seniors at Concordia University in Irvine. Alexa is pursuing a bachelor’s in psychology with a minor in business, while Nicole is studying to become an elementary school teacher. But despite their busy schedules, they remain determined to raise awareness and help advance research that could one day save their sight.
In addition to being event co-chairs the twins are once again co-captains of their walk team, which has already raised more than $78,000, exceeding their $50,000 goal. Now, Alexa and Nicole aim to raise $80,000.
“For me, I have my sister as a built-in support system. What I’m going through, she’s going through, and we kind of use that to help,” Alexa said. “If I can talk to somebody and give them the peace that I’ve come to gain through all of this, then to me, that’s worth it. It’s just doing your part in any way you can.”
The fair and registration begin at 9 a.m., followed by the walk at 10 a.m. San Diego Interim Mayor Todd Gloria will kick off the event, which includes live music, children’s activities, a bounce house, laser tag, refreshments and more.
“There’s really something for everyone,” Nicole said. “I look forward to VisionWalk every year. It’s my favorite time of the year.”
To participate or support the San Diego VisionWalk, visit www.fightblindness.org/sandiegovisionwalk.
For more information about Foundation Fighting Blindness, visit https://www.blindness.org.