O’Neal had been chosen as a swimming delegate for the 2010 National Games to be held in July, but her coach Cheryl Heltzel and others were worried about her vision.
"Her eyes are getting progressively worse and we are trying to keep her safe in the water”, Heltzel said.
O’Neal used regular goggles for every stroke but backstroke. In swimming, flags are used to notify backstroke swimmers that they are getting close to the wall. She had to wear her regular glasses in the water during backstroke so that she could see the flags and therefore would not bump into the wall. While O’Neal’s insurance paid for glasses, she was unable to get prescription goggles.
Fortunately, Dr. Lee Ann Barrett, a Healthy Athletes Opening Eyes clinical director, stepped in to help. Barrett takes a personal interest in making sure athletes have healthy vision so they can compete at their peak ability. Once Barrett was notified of O’Neal’s need for prescription goggles, she worked with suppliers to make a custom pair for her. For O’Neal, the best part was that she didn’t need to pay for the goggles.
She is thrilled about her new goggles because it opened a whole new world of swimming for her.
“I can actually watch my friends swim now, and I love cheering them on,” O’Neal said. She also said she is grateful for Barrett and plans on giving Barrett one of her gold medals because O’Neal believes that in her heart, “she is a gold medal winner.”
Heltzel is excited for Kristina because not only can she see better in the water, but she can see the steps to get out of the water which can prevent injuries. “The first time she swam with the goggles, she stopped in the middle of the lane and touched the bottom of the pool,” Heltzel explained. “Kristina was amazed because she didn’t even know there were black lines at the bottom.”