Blind triplets Leo, Nick and Steven Cantos didn’t take any shortcuts on their way to becoming Eagle Scouts. They completed the same rigorous requirements as everyone else who has earned Scouting’s highest honor.
That’s just one of the incredible facts about these impressive young men who have been covered extensively on TV, in print and online.
Here are seven things to know about these incredible Eagle Scouts:
1. They had a tough life growing up
Leo, Nick and Steven were blind since birth. They were born in Colombia three months premature.
They grew up in Arlington, Va., and their single mother had a tough time caring for them. She worked two jobs and tried to shelter them from the chaos of the outside world.
As a result, the three rarely went outside. In 2014, Leo told NPR’s StoryCorps about one of his few highlights growing up. The boys were 7 and went to McDonald’s and the park.
“Every day was like: Wake up, go to school, come back home, and then you stay there for the rest of the day,” Leo said. “There were certain things that I wish I could do, like I wish I could go out and play in the snow like everyone else. ‘Cause I’ve heard kids through the window — we could hear that they were having fun.”
They were bullied, too. At church and at school, other kids would harass them.
2. They met a blind man who changed everything
The triplets were 10 when Ollie Cantos, who is blind, came knocking on their door.
Ollie, a lawyer with the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C., had heard about the boys through a friend at church.
“He had this feeling like I had to meet them,” Cantos told People magazine. “He also told me that they had never met someone else who was blind.”
Among the many ways Ollie connected with Leo, Nick and Steven: He had been bullied, too.
Ollie remembers being intentionally tripped in the hallway at school. He remembers kids holding their hands in front of his face and asking, “How many fingers am I holding up?” He remembers trying to hide his blindness for years.
3. Ollie adopted the triplets
Ollie began teaching Leo, Nick and Steven how to use their cane, how to cook, how to cross a busy street. He took them to doctors’ appointments and helped them study. He taught them that being blind shouldn’t stop them from reaching their dreams.
Ollie began the adoption process soon after meeting the boys in 2010. With their mother’s blessing, Ollie visited the boys after work and invited them to stay with him on the weekends.
Teachers who had worked with the boys grew curious and did a little investigating into Ollie: “Who was this guy?”
They were satisfied that the boys were safe. They determined that Ollie, who had spent years advocating for people with disabilities and served at the White House under President George W. Bush, was just the father figure the triplets needed.
In 2016, the boys’ mother agreed to name Ollie their legal guardian.
“At first it was just fun to spend time with them,” Ollie told the Washingtonian. “But it became clear very quickly that there was more to this — so much more than I could ever have imagined.”
4. They joined Scouting in 2012
Leo, Nick and Steven became Boy Scouts in 2012, and their troop leaders were welcoming right away.
The leaders made accommodations when necessary, but mostly they challenged the triplets to stretch themselves.
The boys chopped wood with an ax, built fires, and shot bows and arrows. For the Wilderness Survival merit badge, they built a shelter and slept in it. One time, they even visited the shooting range.
“You should have seen the looks on the faces of the employees of the shooting range when we brought Nick, Leo, Ollie and Steven out,” Nathan Graham, one of the troop’s leaders, told the Washingtonian.
Ollie watched firsthand as the boys’ time in Troop 601 helped shape them into strong, independent young men.
“I am so grateful for the Scouting program that enables them to learn these skills and be a part of a great community of other boys,” Ollie told LDS.org. “The troop has done so much to integrate them with their peers. Everyone has been blessed because of it.”
5. Each completed a terrific Eagle Scout project
This article on ARLnow.com outlines the Eagle Scout service projects each young man completed.
Steven collected school supplies for low-income schoolchildren. His goal was to collect enough for 90 students, but he ended up collecting enough for 130.
“I decided that education is important, so let’s give them school supplies,” Steven told ARLnow.com
Leo collected blood and blankets for the children’s hospital where he spent a month re-learning how to walk. He collected 88 units of blood and 77 blankets.
“I wanted to give back to the kids, because I saw the kids there and I saw how they were not doing too well,” Leo told ARLnow.com.
Nick collected hygiene supplies for a nonprofit that helps abused women and families. He collected about $2,000 worth of supplies.
“It took a lot of planning, it took a lot of work and papers,” Nick told ARLnow.com. “The craziest part was seeing all my Scout friends and leaders and brothers helping me to do this, and me managing this thing.”
6. They became Eagle Scouts in 2017
The boys’ Scouting journey reached its triumphant summit on July 26, 2017. That’s the official day the boys earned their Eagle Scout Award.
Although the BSA permits the use of alternative requirements for Scouts with disabilities, Leo, Nick and Steven completed the requirements as written, according to WTTG-TV.
“I’ve always seen myself as the person who just happens to be blind,” Steven told ABC News. “For me, I just happen to have a disability. It’s not the defining factor of my life. I made it the same way as other Eagle Scouts. Everyone has difficulties in their lives. We all have trials. That’s how life is.”
Many news outlets have reported that Leo, Nick and Steven are the first blind triplets to become Eagle Scouts in the history of the award.
7. They use special technology to help them ‘see’ the world
The Washington Post writes about the special technology that helps Steven, Nick and Leo better experienced the world around them.
They wear glasses from a company called Aria. The glasses have a camera that streams live video to a real person hundreds or thousands of miles away. That person serves as the wearer’s eyes, describing everything in the camera’s view.
“It’s like an audio description of life,” Nick told the Post.
Next up for the triplets? They’ll spend six months at the Carroll Center for the Blind near Boston. There they’ll learn the skills needed for independent adult living.
After that, it’s off to college, where anything is possible.