Vision therapy is a type of training that improves the control, focus, movement and coordination of the eyes. These exercises can help children who are experiencing deficiencies in their perception or visual-motor skills that cannot be corrected with glasses, contact lenses or patches.

Fitzgerald’s grandfather, Dr. Robert L. Johnson, an optometrist in Chicago and fellow emeritus of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD), oversaw his treatment during summer visits, beginning at age nine in 1992.

Fine tuning

While his grandfather later utilized exercises to help him athletically, the work began as a way to strengthen Fitzgerald’s abilities in school. “It helped me to stay more focused and helped me academically,” he said.

The exercises involved tools like a Marsden Ball to help him better follow a moving target, a tachyscope which projected rapidly changing images to improve retention and simple hand-eye activities to strengthen peripheral vision. Little did he know, this work would translate so well into his career with the National Football League (NFL).

“There is definitely a connection between the vision therapy that I did as a child and my performance on the field. A number of the drills in football camp reminded me of things I did in in vision therapy that helped develop reaction time, eye-hand coordination and visualization skills.”

“There is definitely a connection between the vision therapy that I did as a child and my performance on the field, “ he said. “A number of the drills in football camp reminded me of things I did in in vision therapy that helped develop reaction time, eye-hand coordination and visualization skills.”

Fitzgerald continued his therapy each summer until 1997. He would be drafted to the NFL as the third overall pick in 2004 after a successful career at the University of Pittsburgh that included a Biletnikoff award.

An enduring bond

Fitzgerald credits his career success with the work he did to improve his abilities through vision therapy. Today, the fond memories Fitzgerald shared with his grandfather, who passed away in 2010, remain as well as the lessons he learned working with him during those summers.

"I miss my grandfather dearly. He had an uncanny way of relating to all kinds of issues. He was so wise and well versed, from scripture to politics, he understood and could navigate effortlessly,” he said. “The relationship I shared with my grandfather was one I will cherish for as long as I live. We had a very special connection."