When Isaac “Joe” Crawford of Union County arrived in Raleigh for the 2018 SONC Summer Games, he had every intention of just bowling his best, making new friends and hopefully earning a medal. In his third year competing in Special Olympics, Crawford was getting better at every competition. Yet as his techniques and skills improved, something still wasn’t quite right.
Suffering from headaches and often squinting to see better, it was clear Crawford needed to get his eyes checked. When attending class at South Piedmont Community College, he often couldn’t tell the difference between a seven and a one on the board. It wasn’t long before Crawford’s sister, Fredria Smith, took him to the eye doctor.
“They told me he had astigmatism,” said Smith. “But they said it wasn’t anything major and that they wouldn’t be giving Joe glasses.”
A few weeks later, Smith, who is Crawford’s Unified partner for bowling, encouraged her brother to go to the Healthy Athletes screenings being offered during Summer Games. Together, they visited Special Smiles and Healthy Hearing. Expecting to be told the same information, they slowly and unenthusiastically made their way to Opening Eyes, which provides free vision screening and assistance to athletes.
While having his vision examined, the Opening Eyes volunteer turned to Smith and said that Crawford had astigmatism.
“I told him that we already knew he had astigmatism and that we were hoping to visit another doctor soon to get him glasses,” explained Smith.
That’s when the volunteer said the words that just about knocked Crawford and Smith off their feet.
“Ma’am, we can make Isaac a pair of glasses right here, right now and for free!”
Crawford could hardly believe it. Were they really about to give him glasses? Would he finally be able to stop squinting to see the words on the board during class?
They put the auto-refractor over his eyes to get a correct prescription and they made his glasses right there, all while Dr. Jason Minton, Opening Eyes Clinical Director, walked Smith through instructions for proper eye and glasses care.
Once the glasses were ready, Crawford placed them on the bridge of his nose tucking the arms behind his ears making sure they fit. He nervously opened his eyes and took in the sights in front of him.
“Sister, I can see! I can see,” Crawford exclaimed to Smith.
Though he mostly needs his glasses for reading, from that moment on Crawford found that he enjoys wearing his glasses on a more regular basis. Seeing so clearly for the first time took some adjusting for Crawford, but seeing the outlines of shapes that weren’t there before has been exciting for him.
“During bowling practice one day, I told him to try it with his glasses on. The next thing I know he bowls a strike,” said Smith. “I asked him if the glasses made a difference and he said, ‘Yes! I saw the pins!’”
Special Olympics’ research has shown that people with intellectual disabilities are consistently left out of health systems that are ill-equipped to diagnose and treat them. With programs like Healthy Athletes, Special Olympics athletes like Crawford can perform to their best on and off the field of play.
Now, Crawford plans to attend regular check-ups with Dr. Minton in Charlotte! He has even improved in class, telling the difference between the numbers seven and one, as well as many letters.
When Crawford looks back on that weekend, he can’t help but smile. He and his Unified partner walked away from the competition with a bronze medal. Even more than that, Crawford walked away with a new outlook on life.
Want to know how to support more athletes like Joe in Union County? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.