SALT LAKE CITY — Before he became an independently wealthy financier, before he claimed three jiujitsu world championships, before he served 15 years on the Civil Rights Commission in Washington, D.C., before he became a husband and a father and a philanthropist — before all that, Russell Redenbaugh lay in a hospital bed at the age of 17 and heard the doctors whisper to his mother that her son would be blind the rest of his life. And he mentally did cartwheels.
He wasn’t happy he was blind, far from it, but he was thrilled to finally know, after months of surgeries followed by more surgeries, what the score was.
Now he could get on with life.
He then and there identified certain things he would not tolerate: He wouldn’t be dependent, he wouldn’t be poor, and he wouldn’t be unmarriable. Those were the big uh-uhs!
The big uh-huh! was he would live in the sighted world.
He wasn’t sure where he was going, but he knew where he wasn’t.
Those “declarations” that “shifted the narrative” of his life made all the difference.
• • •
The explosion that cost him his eyesight was his own darn fault.
On May 19, 1962, the sophomore-almost-junior at Olympus High School was busy in the garage on a Saturday morning, literally doing his part to help fulfill President John F. Kennedy’s goal of America sending a man to the moon by the end of the 1960s.
His rocket ship was all set to be tested when his homemade jet fuel ignited before it was supposed to, blowing a hole out of the garage wall and sending Russell to the hospital in critical condition.
Six weeks and more than two-dozen surgeries later, he emerged from the hospital — where his parents and his uncle, former U.S. Senator Jake Garn, had kept a constant vigil — with mangled hands, the outright loss of one eye and the other hanging by a thread.
After yet more surgeries and bed rest at a hospital in San Francisco, by February the doctors rendered their verdict that that eye was gone, too.
At that moment, no one would have — or could have — foreseen Russell Redenbaugh’s future:
• After graduating on time with the class of ’64 from Olympus High, the former “indifferent at best” student majored in business at the University of Utah and finished first in his class.