‘It doesn’t stop me’: Palisade’s Crow doesn’t let partial blindness keep her from competing
Emily Crow will never take for granted any throw she makes in softball, any shot she takes in basketball or any 100-meter sprint in track.
Crow, a three-sport athlete at Palisade High School, is doing more with one good eye than many can do with two.
Only a sophomore, Crow is thriving on the athletic field despite Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, which has caused partial blindness in her right eye.
“I can see colors, but I can’t see shapes,” Crow said. “It’s really blurry.”
Crow was born with the disease, but her family didn’t know anything was wrong until Easter morning when she was 3 years old. While playing in the yard, she was hit in her right eye with a stick. Her father, Tass, said even finding out about the disease was a blessing for the family.
“We were really lucky to find it to begin with,” Tass said. “After she was hit in the eye with the stick is when we really started noticing her eye was doing some different things.”
Tass said he noticed Emily’s eyes were cloudy, and took her to a doctor, who told the family that Emily had a “lazy eye.” Grand Junction ophthalmologist Randy Rottman first noticed Emily had something more severe than a lazy eye.
“Dr. Rottman looked at her eye for about 10 minutes and said we had to go see a specialist in Denver,” Tass said. “The specialist said there’s nothing we can really do but pump the eye full of steroids, but eventually she will go completely blind.”
That was not exactly the answer Tass was looking for. Dr. Rottman sent all the information about Emily’s eye to Dr. Stephen Foster, the head of ophthalmology at Harvard University in Boston.
“Dr. Foster said she needs to be flown out here immediately and we ended up in Boston,” Tass said. “And there, Emily had probably between 15 and 20 surgeries in six weeks. And then for a four-year span we went back and forth to Boston every two months, going through a variety of different procedures.”
The procedures were in part to keep Emily from eventually becoming completely sightless.
What causes Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis to be so troublesome to young children is Uveitis, which is an inflammation of the inner part of the eye. Left untreated, it can lead to glaucoma, cataracts and blindness.
By age eight, every treatment and surgery was working, and the disease was in remission. In fifth grade, Emily was allowed to begin playing sports.
READY TO COMPETE
“We never thought she’d be able to play athletics,” Tass said. “She always did want to play, but we always kept her out of them because she couldn’t afford to take a bump in the head or something. Early on, we were afraid that any little jarring could cause that disease to come out of remission.”
Emily started with basketball the first year, then played softball. A natural athlete, she was able to make up for the disadvantages her disease presented, such as decreased depth perception and almost no peripheral vision.
Plus, she had to wear glasses while she played sports.
“I don’t think it’s a handicap because it doesn’t stop me from doing anything,” Emily said. “But I always think about what it would be like if I had two working eyes.”
That attitude has allowed Emily to be successful in sports where many with her condition might give up or try something else. Crow has developed into a solid pitcher at Palisade with pinpoint accuracy. This past season, she went 7-2, struck out 42 batters and walked only nine.
“She can see pretty good out of the good eye and she’s been pitching long enough that she kind of figured it out,” Tass said. “We had a buddy coaching her in sixth grade at Grand Mesa (Little League), and he asked if I cared if she pitches and I said no, because at that age they don’t hit it hard enough to do any real damage, so I said sure, and we’ve just worked on it from there.”
Watching Crow’s play on the field, nothing is different from any of her teammates. She’s able to make plays, be where she’s supposed to be and is a leader on teams. Crow doesn’t complain or feel sorry for herself because she has only one good eye. In fact, she’s so private about it that most people don’t even know anything is wrong.
Second-year Palisade girls basketball coach Toni Gunther said she didn’t realize Crow didn’t have vision in one eye until midway through last season.
“I think she didn’t catch a pass and someone said, ‘You know she can’t see out of that eye,’ ” Gunther said. “I was like, ‘No, I didn’t know.’ “
Gunther said it’s Crow’s work ethic that allows her to excel at almost anything.
“You wouldn’t know it from the stands, and I hardly knew it as a coach,” Gunther said. “She never complains, she’s one of our fastest kids and she pushes other teammates to a higher level. She’s involved with lots of things like student council and volunteering, and she does a nice job representing Palisade High.”
Although Crow wasn’t blessed with vision so many take for granted, she certainly has plenty of natural abilities.
Her speed led her to run track for the first time last spring. Specializing in the 400-meter dash, Crow immediately rose to the top of the Palisade track team in that event, but also discovered something to help her level the playing field.
Crow played her freshman softball and basketball seasons while still wearing glasses, but once it came time for track, something had to change.
“During track it was hard for me to run with my glasses bouncing on my face,” Crow said. “So I had to switch to goggles and it’s been a lot easier.”
Crow now wears the prescription goggles for all three sports, and is continuing to improve.
Tass Crow said he’s still amazed his daughter is even competing.
“Every time I watch her it amazes me,” Tass said. “I’m a pretty competitive person at heart so I can get on her, then I think, ‘God, she’s come so far to be even able to play athletics.’ We are very blessed considering that the prognosis early on was eventual complete blindness.”
And as for Emily, the disease hasn’t stopped her yet, and she doesn’t plan on it slowing her down.
“I say try everything and don’t hold back, because it has never affected me,” Crow said. “To me, just because you’re blind in one eye, don’t let it stop you.”