Christian Chavez of the newly opened Ladybird Johnson High School in San Antonio, Texas is a highly competitive, quite athletic young man. Christian Chavez swims a 59 second 100 freestyle. Not impressed yet? Christian Chavez is blind.
That’s right, blind. When Chavez first signed up for the Jaguars swim team, he could not at all out of his left eye, and had 20/2600 vision in his right eye. This 20/2600 vision means that if he is 20 feet away from something, he sees it as well as a normal person would see it from 2600 feet away, or roughly half a mile.
Johnson head swim coach Dustin Holland had to find a way to keep his talented, but raw, young swimmer from crashing into walls. And so he invoked a method that my grandpa uses to park his car in the garage, namely, he hung a tennis ball from a stick and taps Chavez on the back when he approaches walls, so that he knows when to turn.
But this is not the scientifically important part of the story. According to Kens5.com, it turns out, in his right eye, his vision has improved from 20/2600 to 20/2200 thanks to his time in the pool. That may not seem like a lot, but it’s a roughly 15% improvement. Chavez’s Ophthalmologist was at first baffled by the improvement, but now believes that swimming is the most reasonable explanation.
Although his coach helps him flip, Chavez must rely upon extreme focus to follow the lines on the bottom of the pool, something that most of us take for granted, to circle-swim and avoid head-on collisions. Chavez’s doctor believes that this intense focus is what is improving his vision by strengthening the eye.
We’ve all known for a long time of the positive affects that swimming can have on our hearts, lungs, and muscles, but this benefit on the eyes could be a medical breakthrough, at least for those afflicted with especially poor vision, like Christian.