Game, sight and match

SES, 20 October 2020

Four famous athletes with eye conditions

An athlete relies on clear visual information to ensure they have the quick reflexes needed for competing at elite levels. So what happens when this information is damaged or impaired?

For the sportspeople below sight issues were just another challenge to overcome. As their stories prove, with the right expertise and specialist treatment many eye conditions can be lessened and overcome.

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  1. Sugar Ray Leonard

Detached retinas are a common injury in boxing, with some punches causing lasting damage in separating the retina from the layer beneath. Without the correct treatment patients can experience floaters, flashes and loss of the peripheral visual field. Eventual loss of sight is a risk too, and many fighters have to retire after experiencing a detached retina.

A partially detached retina of Sugar Ray Leonard led many critics to call for an end to his career. However after surgery in 1982 the multiple division champion would go on to make another three more comebacks and gain more championship belts.

  1. Edgar Davids

 Known as the ‘pitbull’ of Italian giants Juventus, Davids was regarded as one of European football’s most versatile and tough midfielders through the 90s and into the first decade of the 21st century. He has been labelled “one of the most recognisable footballers of his generation”, partly due to his skill and tenacity and partly due to the distinctive glasses he wore when playing.

The glasses were because of Davids’ glaucoma, a condition he managed throughout his playing career. That he would gain legendary status in the highly competitive sport is testament to the determination of the man.

  1. Stephen Curry

Steph Curry is known as one of the greatest point guards of all time. He’s a six-time NBA All-Star, has been named the NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) twice and has won three NBA championships. He also suffers from keratoconus, an eye condition where the cornea becomes thinner and cone-shaped over time.

He was only diagnosed with the condition in 2019, ten years into his NBA career. Since then he’s undergone a corneal crosslinking procedure and now, with assistance from specialised contact lenses, he believes his game has improved even further.

  1. Venus Williams

Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease that affects the body’s moisture-producing glands. As a result those with the syndrome can experience severe dye eye symptoms, leading to general eye pain, blurry vision and the heightened risk of infection. For Venus Williams the diagnosis of Sjögren’s syndrome in 2009 explained joint pain, fatigue and other symptoms she’s been struggling with over the years.

She is now never far from eye drops, which she uses regularly to reduce any discomfort and improve her vision during matches. With the correct treatment and her ongoing discipline Williams was able to return and compete at the highest level of the sport and in 2017 she made the Grand Slam finals on two separate occasions.

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Many eye injuries in sports are due to retinal detachments, which is caused generally by trauma to the eye from a blunt object, be it a finger, fist, ball or some other fast-moving object.  

At Southern Eye Specialists we we have three vitreoretinal surgeons who operate on retinal detachments – Dr Logan Robinson, Dr Jim Borthwick and Dr Sean Every). Additionally we also have Dr John Rawstron, who is our corneal specialist. John performs corneal cross-linking and other treatments for conditions such as keratoconus.