Imagine if you will a swimmer who in every single training session performs so consistently well that her coach cannot wait for competition. Based on the times she reliably produces in her practices, victory seems all but assured. She has a gift for swimming and has put in the hard work of refining it, and yet, when this swimmer actually competes, she always places second. Constantly, inscrutably, she comes up just short of winning it all.
This was one quandary that Southern California College of Optometry Assistant Professor Dr. Eunice Myung Lee recalls from her many years volunteering with the Special Olympics Lions Club International Opening Eyes Program at the Special Olympics World Games. After giving the swimmer a basic vision screening, Dr. Myung Lee discovered that the swimmer’s vision was so impaired while competing that if she didn’t follow the wake of the swimmer in the lane next to hers, she could not tell where her own lane was – and so she never finished better than second place. Dr. Myung Lee outfitted the athlete with a free pair of prescription swim goggles, and the swimmer went out and did what everyone expected her to: she won.
A Rewarding Endeavor
Dr. Myung Lee has a lot of stories like this. When she was a student at Southern California College of Optometry, she took a chance on a volunteering opportunity that seemed interesting: it was an early pilot program through AOA meant to provide vision screening services to athletes competing in the Special Olympics. She loved it so much that she kept volunteering, year after year, eventually becoming so integral that she was asked to help run it. She is now a Clinical Director for the Special Olympics Southern California program, and as such she marshals resources that include thousands of dollars worth of equipment and dozens of doctor, staff and student volunteers, who put in over 1,200 hours of work to deliver health services in seven clinical areas completely free of charge to hundreds of athletes at each state games.
The days are long and the work is not easy, but Dr. Myung Lee – who has been joined each year since they began dating by her now-husband Dr. James Lee – is grateful for the opportunity. “At the beginning there was a little bit of a battle because some people said ‘This is only a sports event.’ But our founder was very insistent that you can’t compete in sports if you are not well,” says Dr. Myung Lee. “I started doing it as a student, and it is just so rewarding that I kept on doing it. You’re working hard, but they always appreciate it. It’s such a super positive environment, and the spirit of it is really amazing.”
To Give and To Receive
Much of what Dr. Myung Lee is able to do comes from the fact that she receives significant support from Marshall B. Ketchum University, the home of SCCO. Every athlete her team sees receives something – whether it’s a pair of prescription frames made on-site, a pair of sunglasses, or protective eyewear to use in competition. These items are not cast-offs; they’re brand new and donated by a number of vendors that partner with Special Olympics each year.
The athletes are not the only ones who receive something valuable. The SCCO student volunteers Dr. Myung Lee brings with her often gain a new appreciation for how their profession can serve a community. “It’s not just about providing a pair of free glasses; it’s an educational tool,” she says. “We’re educating families about health, but we’re also educating our student volunteers. Our athletes don’t always have access, even if they have insurance, because there may not be someone where they live who is willing to work with individuals with special needs. The more years we do this, the more students who will go out and say ‘I can do this.’ So we are increasing access to health care. And I’m so proud to see so many of our graduates who go out and continue to volunteer in other states and sometimes even train to become Clinical Directors!”