Focus, Group!


Apr 24, 2007
Outside Magazine
Q & A

Is it safe to hike at altitude if you've had eye surgery?
Depends. If you're one of the guinea pigs who underwent radial keratotomy (RK) in the eighties and nineties, then you could experience a refractive shift (blurred vision) above 16,000 feet. But RK has largely been replaced by LASIK surgery, which is safer, because lasers are more precise than a diamond-blade scalpel when shaping the cornea. In 2003, five Everest climbers who had undergone LASIK surgery reported no visual changes up to 26,400 feet. Three of them noted perfect vision on top, while two had minor blurring that improved upon descent.

Founder of the Visual Fitness Institute, in Vernon Hills, Illinois, ophthalmologist Barry L. Seiller has developed vision-improvement programs for the U.S. Ski Team, major league baseball teams, and elite tennis players. Vision training improves performance by increasing the speed with which you gather and process visual information. Chase Headley, 23, a third baseman in the San Diego Padres organization, says that, as a result of the training, "I see the ball sooner, and it decreases my reaction time." Use the exercises here, adapted from Seiller's program and optometrist Thomas Wilson's SportsVision: Training for Better Performance, to improve your own visual skills. Practice four times per week, devoting three minutes to each drill. Reduce frequency as you master the skills.

SKILL: Hand-Eye Coordination (Refer Fig. 1) Precise and speedy hand-eye coordination improves performance in every sport, from climbing to tennis.
DRILL: Thread the Spaghetti Have a friend hold a drinking straw horizontally about 16 inches from your face. While looking straight ahead (not at your hands), try to thread two pieces of uncooked spaghetti simultaneously into opposite ends of the straw. Repeat the drill, varying the distance and position of the straw.

SKILL: See-Think-React (Refer Fig. 2) High-speed sports require split-second reactions to visual cues. Kayakers and mountain bikers see a rock and process the visual information, then execute moves to avoid the obstacle. The faster you are at the former, the easier the latter becomes.
DRILL #1: Eye on the Ball Gather a few footballs (Nerfs work well). Label the tip of each ball with a different number. Have a friend throw you a ball; before you catch it, call out the number on the tip.
DRILL #2: Beanbag Toss Have a partner stand a few feet behind you and toss a beanbag past you on one side or the other, but within reach. As he throws, your partner calls "left" or "right." Look to that side and catch the bag. Advanced: Stare straight ahead to improve peripheral vision as well.

SKILL: Near/Far Focusing (Refer Fig. 3) Cycling, skiing, and all ball sports require the ability to focus on close-up objects (rocks, moguls, blistering first serves) and then quickly shift to objects that are far away (a bend in the trail, trees downslope, the net).
DRILL: Rapid Eye Movement Stand ten feet away from a bookcase. Hold a book or magazine (opened to a page of small text) at eye level, several inches from your face. Read a few words of the magazine and then look up and read the title off the spine of a book on the shelf. Switch back and forth betweenreading small, close text and distant titles. The goal is quickness and accuracy.

SKILL: Peripheral Vision (Refer Fig. 4) Quarterbacks and point guards are often praised for their "vision"—or benched for their lack of it. Whether for pickup games or crowded club rides, you need to be aware of what's happening around you as well as in front of you.
DRILL: Look Wide Print out several papers with words and numbers in 72-point type. Tape the papers randomly to the walls in the corner of a room. Have a friend point to various pages with a laser pointer, and call out the words and numbers—while staring straight into the corner. For maximum benefit, vary your distance from the corner (three to six feet).

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