Article Date: 6/1/2008

Seeing Gold
reflections THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY

Seeing Gold

Helping the U.S. Olympic athletes to achieve peak performance.

GRAHAM B. ERICKSON, O.D., FOREST GROVE, ORE.

In August, thousands of athletes will gather in Beijing, China to celebrate sport. Despite their great diversity in national origin, language, color and creed, each share a common love for athletics and a fierce determination to perform at their best.

Although, I'm not an Olympic athlete, I feel as if I've become a part of a team of professionals helping to prepare these athletes for success in Beijing.

Here's my story…

Athletic eyes

As a council member of The Vision Care Institute's AchieveVision Program (Vistakon), I've been helping these competitors maximize their vision for their individual sports and lifestyle. This is because AchieveVision is a customized, visual-skills assessment and improvement program.

Heather O'Reilly and Dr. Erickson during an AchieveVision event.

Through the past year, I've worked with various U.S. national teams, using specialized equipment to test visual skills, such as eye-hand and eye-foot reaction, peripheral awareness, contrast sensitivity and distance-depth perception.

We've found that Olympic athletes as a group tend to have better-than-average vision, though some have subtle visual weaknesses on which we've been able to improve. For example, some competitors have improved their performance on the field via training exercises that have helped their eyes work together more efficiently than before. As a result, they've been able to improve their reaction time. Others have improved their performance via adjustments to their contact-lens prescriptions and by wearing tinted lenses to block the sun's distracting rays.

"Vision is just as important as eating well and staying fit," says Heather O'Reilly, a member of the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team. "But unfortunately it's something that a lot of athletes take for granted or overlook."

Heather, who was fit with contact lenses for the first time a few years ago, confessed that she was amazed at the difference in the amount of detail she could see with her lenses. She also revealed that some of her teammates had never undergone an eye exam.

Now, many of our Olympic athletes have a clear understanding about how the ability to make accurate spatial judgments and see the spin on a ball or the subtle movement of an outfielder on the opposing team can provide a competitive edge.

Passing the torch

Although I'm an O.D., even I've been surprised by the degree that athletes universally depend on their vision to aid their performance.

Yes, I knew that dynamic, reactive sports, such as soccer and baseball, require good vision and excellent visual-motor skills, but I also discovered what role vision plays in speed skating. When working with the U.S. speed skaters, they instructed me on the ability to "read" the ice and how finding the "line" affects their ability to efficiently and effectively head into and out of a turn. When their vision is optimized, they have more confidence and a better feel for the ice.

I'll be glued to the television when the teams with which I've worked are competing. And, I'll be hoping that my role in readying them for their events will in some way enable them to achieve success. OM

Visit www.achievevisionprogram.com for more information.


DO YOU HAVE A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE? DISCUSS YOUR STORY WITH JENNIFER KIRBY, SENIOR ASSOCIATE EDITOR OF OPTOMETRIC MANAGEMENT, AT (215) 643-8139, OR KIRBYJ@LWWVISIONCARE.COM. OM OFFERS AN HONORARIUM FOR PUBLISHED SUBMISSIONS.

Optometric Management, Issue: June 2008