By Christopher Cudworth
Those of you with perfect vision have no idea. How much. It sucks. To have bad eyesight.
My eyes started going bad at about 12 years old. Which double-sucked, because that’s about the age when glasses really look geeky on kids no matter how well-chosen the frames may be.
So you suffer through those years if your parents won’t buy you contact lenses.
Of course parents who suffered through their adolescent years looking like McLovin from Superbad generally have compassion on their own kids and buy them contact lenses as soon as they are old enough to responsibly use them.
But contact lenses for athletes are not just about appearance. They are also about performance.
Lobbying for a better look
My parents paid no attention to my complaints that the glasses they purchased for me at age 13 were negatively affecting my hitting ability in baseball. The frames were thick and blocked peripheral vision.
So I stopped wearing them even as my vision got worse. Soon enough the inevitable happened. A line drive came screaming off the bat of my coach at twilight and I could not see it before it was too late. Off to the hospital and dentist I went to have a tooth put back in my mouth.
Limited options. Unlimited ugliness.
Glasses have come a long way since those early days of forcing kids into one or two frame styles for kids. That’s right. When you went to the optometrist there were basically three styles to choose from in the early 1970s. Ugly. Uglier. And ugliest.
And none of them was designed for sports.
Except for actual Sports Glasses. Now those were a scary deal. Sports glasses were big black frames attached to your head with what appeared to be a chunk of jockstrap. Girls almost automatically laughed at you when you put Sports Glasses on.
My parents bought them for me as a sort of concession that I was good at sports. But those glasses actually made things worse, not better. The frames were so thick that basketballs were always hitting me in the side of the head because you could not see them coming.
The Squint King
So I went without glasses, preferring to squint my way through cross country races and baseball games and basketball, which was worst of all. It’s pretty hard to find your range on the court when everything around you looks fuzzy.
It went that way all through high school. I finally demanded a pair of wire-rim glasses so that I’d look a little better “for the ladies”, but those glasses repeatedly got shattered on the basketball floor and often had to be held together with athletic tape. I know: Nerd City, right? You did what you had to do when your parents weren’t rich and your glasses got busted.
Lenses were glass back then, and the tiny little pieces resulted from a basketball to the face made the coach livid that practice had to be stopped to sweep up the glass.
Who can blame him? By the time I was a senior, the sport was no longer practical given my eyewear situation.
And that made me a full time runner.
Framing the issue
Still, the glasses thing was still a problem. If you had a strong prescription your glasses were heavy and thick, forcing you to push them up your nose if you did not have a glasses strap to tug them tight to your face.
Cool was not a term that would be associated the glasses I wore my junior year in college. In an attempt to make them look a little cooler I selected a frameless style with the lenses exposed on the side. What a mistake. With my prescription they looked nothing like the sample pair on display at the optometrist’s office.
And those suckers were heavy. I spent half of every race I ran pushing them up. Or else the glasses strap was pulled so tight to keep them in place my entire forehead would compress in tension from the pressure. Neither was conducive to good racing.
That was the only year I did not make All Conference in college cross country. And I blame those damned glasses.
By spring I’d made peace with the things enough to run all my PRs in track. But actually, those times came out of anger in not doing well the previous fall.
The fact is, I was in a prison of my own making, with long, long hair, a pair of glasses too big and too heavy for my face, and a Lasse Viren beard that make me look like a Nordic reject.
And that summer I got rid of it all.
Cut off my long hair myself, then went to the barber shop to fix the overall look.
Shaved the beard and kept a simple, clean mustache. It was 1978, after all.
And got contact lenses. That was the real kicker.
I felt like a liberated man. No longer did I have to push my glasses up or run with my face pointing down at the ground in a habit I’d developed when running without glasses.
Life suddenly made sense, and my running started to show it.
That summer’s training was revelatory, and that fall I moved from 7th man to 2nd man on the cross country team. We placed 2nd in the nation that fall in NCAA Division III cross country.
It would not have happened without the contact lenses. I am convinced of that.
Seeing clearly and easily was an important part of that transcendent period, but so was having a clearer picture of myself. It all works together, as anyone can see. The same thing happened for a dozen or so of my fellow runners. They got rid of the glasses and became a different kind of runner. It worked like magic. Perhaps it was less facial tension. Or less weight on the head. Whatever. It worked.
Friends of mine have gotten eye surgery to correct their vision. I can certainly see the merit of that. But middle aged friends tell me they still need reading glasses after the surgery. So I’m not convinced the trouble and expense is worth it.
It would however be nice not to worry about contact lenses while running or riding the bike. And if I take up triathlons as I’m planning to do, not having contacts during the swim would be one less worry to think about.
The real point is that taking your vision seriously can reap pretty significant benefits. Your eyes are an important part of your success, if you know how to use them.