Visionary doctor helps athletes see Olympic dreams

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

Follow Martin Rogers on Twitter at @mrogersyahoo

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – When Katherine Reutter talks about her Olympic vision, she is not just referring to the four-year search for success that could culminate in Wednesday night's 500 meters.

The 21-year-old short-track speedskater is one of several athletes assisted by Dr. Cary Silverman, a Lasik eye surgeon whose unique version of getting into the Winter Olympic spirit was to offer free procedures to Team USA members. Long-track speedskater Chad Hedrick also took advantage of Silverman's offer, as did bobsledders Curt Tomasevicz and Erin Pac and hockey defensewoman Molly Engstrom.

Yet it is Reutter who has been the biggest beneficiary of Silverman's generosity.

At a consultation last year, Reutter's eyesight was so poor that she joked with Silverman that she could barely see the eye chart used for testing, let alone identify any of the letters on it.

Aside from a privileged few, most American speedskaters operate on thin ice financially, as they try to scrape by on grants and minor sponsorships. Despite the best efforts of comedian Stephen Colbert, who put together a sponsorship package after U.S. Speedskating's previous sponsor encountered financial trouble, times are tough.

Enter the good doctor.

"Katherine had terrible vision," said Silverman in a telephone conversation with Yahoo! Sports from his practice in East Hannover, N.J. "She was a wonderful candidate for the procedure because of how bad her vision was and it was great to help her out.

"We know how difficult things can be for Olympic athletes, especially Winter Olympians, in trying to make ends meet. It is a very satisfying experience for me to be able to help them achieve their dreams.

"We fly them out to see us, put them up in a hotel and see what we can do for them."

Reutter is thought to have a legitimate shot at a 500 meters medal, which would be America's first in women's short track in 16 years. But she will have to find a way to out-duel China's spectacular favorite Wang Meng, one of the most dominant short-track speedskaters in history, if she is to claim the gold.

The American believes her new-found clarity of vision has given her an edge in competition, and it will be put to the ultimate test on the ice of the Pacific Coliseum.

Reutter has improved steadily over the past year to emerge as a genuine threat at the international level and enjoys the luxury of no longer having to perform with contact lenses, as she did for so many years.

The difference in Vancouver could be even more noticeable, as some visitors who wear contacts have complained that the humidity has caused irritation and discomfort.

"It has been fantastic for me and it just makes my day a whole lot easier," Reutter said. "As an athlete you don't want to be spending time with contacts and this is a huge, positive change."

Silverman's decision to get behind the United States team was pretty straightforward. As a fanatical follower of Olympic sports, he embraced the idea of using his expertise to help American athletes. But the procedure comes with a pressure of its own.

"These are world-class athletes, so we have to get it absolutely right," Silverman said. "Most wear contacts and complain about them drying out, so this is a great solution. We have had a great response from everyone and we look forward to seeing them all try to compete for medals."

"It is my way of getting involved in the Games," Silverman said. "It gives you someone to root for and makes me feel like I have a vested interest in it. It is the closest I'm going to get to a medal."

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