Whether it be tracking down a football over several yards or connecting a bat against a baseball, many sports require an athlete’s eyes to see a moving object.
Yet, when a rare genetic eye disease threatens performance ability, sight turns from a strength into an Achilles’ heel. Mistakes and the ability to process information no longer become clumsy accidents, but rather physical incapabilities. An athlete may have to step away from the field, along with the ability to see ever again.
For club women’s rugby player Alayna Lopez, a second-year in communication technology, the diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa — a group of rare eye diseases that affects individuals from birth and currently has no cure, according to the National Eye Institute — in high school further fueled her passion to compete in sports, despite hearing she will lose her eyesight in the next six years.
Lopez, a Cleveland native, said she aims to bring awareness to students with disabilities in sports through her participation in this year’s women’s rugby club at Ohio State.
“Sports build character, they teach life lessons, and it’s important for every person, despite their disability, to experience that,” Lopez said.
Lopez said her journey in playing sports started as soon as she could pick up a basketball at 2 years old. She began playing organized sports in the fifth grade because it offered her a chance to step away from her issues at home, she said.
Lopez didn’t think her vision interfered with her athletic performance growing up because she has worn glasses since she was 11 months old, she said. She often attributed her errors while playing sports on her lack of awareness rather than her eyesight, she said.
These errors frustrated her while playing basketball, Lopez said, because she would get hit beside the head with the ball. She then turned to wrestling and track and field in high school.
Lopez said after enrolling at Ohio State, she still wanted to participate in sports. She looked to join a sport similar to wrestling and learned more about the women’s rugby club, she said.
“I was like, ‘Man, rugby seems pretty violent and aggressive,’” Lopez said. “I was like, ‘Oh cool, I get to tackle people and maybe it will be a little bit like football.’”
Lopez said she joined the women’s rugby club team and began practicing in fall 2022. She disclosed her eye disease to her coaches but did not specify the extent of it.
In October 2022, Lopez went to an appointment at Ohio State where she was informed that her condition had progressed more than she was previously told: She would lose her vision entirely in the next five to 10 years.
“They essentially told me that my vision is going to go out completely,” Lopez said.
Lopez said she had a difficult time telling her…
Read More: Partially blind women’s rugby club player aims to bring awareness to students 2023-01-26 01:28:50