Have you heard the name Steve Holcomb over the last few days?  Holcomb piloted a 4-man bobsled to Olympic gold, the first American to do so since the 1948 Winter Games.  Like many Olymic athletes, Holcomb’s backstory is one of perseverance.   He suffers from keratoconus, a degenerative eye disease.  This disease causes bulging of the cornea into a cone shape.  As his corneas’ curvature became steeper and steeper, it became more and more difficult to correct his vision with glasses and contact lenses.  Holcomb learned to rely on proprioception to “feel” his way instead of “seeing” his way down the track.  Holcomb’s vision deteriorated to the point where he was forced to consider retiring from the sport.  This is a sport where little mistakes cause you to lose time, but big mistakes could cause you to lose your life.  “Feeling” your way was just becoming too risky.  Then somebody told him about a new surgical procedure that involves implanting a contact lens inside the eye.  Holcomb’s surgery was very successful and his vision was restored beyond expectations.  In fact, he found his vision was “too good.”  All the visual information he was receiving made it difficult for him to use proprioceptive information, and his performance began to decline.  Holcomb finally reduced the amount of visual information his brain was processing by scratching up the visor on his helmet! This helped him find the right balance of “seeing” and “feeling” to pilot his bobsled down the track at 90 miles per hour! I think this is a great example of how vision is learned.  You may have 20/20 vision but unless you have learned how to use all of your visual skills in an integrated way, you may not win a medal, or finish your schoolwork, or score a goal.  I’ll bet that Holcomb will learn how to process more visual information effectively and integrate his visual system with his other senses so that he doesn’t have to scratch up his visor.  Look for his bobsled in 2014!

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