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Eye disease doesn't stop Williams

  • MIKE FEIFEL/TIMES NEWS Pleasant Valley's Tarik Williams drives past a teammate during a recent practice. Williams has a genetic eye disease that is slowly robbing him of his vision.
    MIKE FEIFEL/TIMES NEWS Pleasant Valley's Tarik Williams drives past a teammate during a recent practice. Williams has a genetic eye disease that is slowly robbing him of his vision.
Published February 11. 2010 05:00PM

One can't possibly overstate the importance of vision when playing sports.

Although it is sometimes taken for granted, athletes need to have good eyesight and a fast reaction time in order to process the information in front of them quickly and efficiently.

Unfortunately for Pleasant Valley's Tarik Williams, a member of the varsity basketball team and the school's band, his vision is slowly being taken away from him.

Two Septembers ago in AAU practice, Williams was hit with a ball directly above his right eye. A couple of weeks passed before Williams was at an eye appointment and noticed that he couldn't see well out of his right eye. While the doctors initially believed it was a nerve problem, Williams' eyesight continued to get worse.

"Spring time rolled around and I realized that I couldn't see what I used to see," said the junior. "My vision was steadily decreasing. We got it checked out and went back and forth to the doctor. That's when we realized something wasn't right."

Then, this past June, Williams was diagnosed with Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy - which is a genetic disease passed down through his mother's genes. The disease affects roughly 1-in-8,500 men, most of which in their 20s, and currently has no cure. While Williams can still see using his peripheral vision, his direct line of sight is now mostly black and blurry.

"When I first found out I was really upset," said Williams. "I was kind of in shock because everything happened pretty fast. But after a while I started thinking and I decided that I wasn't going to let it bother me that much. I can still do all the things that I love so I wasn't going to let it stop me."

The news wasn't easy on Williams' parents, Ingrid and Ricky, either. According to Williams, the news is still hard on his mother.

"She was really upset," admitted Williams. "She still gets upset about it. She takes it worse than I do because I guess she feels bad or responsible, but I tell her not to worry about it because I am doing fine."

Everyday activities have become a challenge for Williams as well. Since he is no longer able to see directly in front of him, he must now take specialized tests that are either verbal, larger in font or used with a magnifier. He is also learning how to read Braille in case his vision gets worse in the future.

Being sociable isn't easy either, but like everything else Williams has learned to adapt. Since he can no longer see his friends' faces in the hallways, he has tried to remember their voices in order to respond courteously.

"When people would say hi to me in the hallway, I would have to look away from them in order to see them," Williams said. "I'm sure they would wonder why I wasn't even looking at them when I responded. Now I am trying to remember their voices so I can look toward them. Some people know about my disability, but I don't feel as if it is something everybody needs to know."

Williams went out of his way to thank three teachers that have helped him greatly within the past year. He wanted to thank Nadia Lineman, his vision support teacher, for her overall help in academics. Next was Karen Fuls, his sophomore English teacher, who was waiting for him with open arms his first day back. Lastly there was Kim Economy, who got Williams a talking watch so he didn't always have to ask what time it was.

Williams' resiliency is what separates him from most people with debilitating diseases. While the doctors have said that Williams' disease has plateaued for now, that doesn't mean he has let his life become stagnant. He has taken up the piano and hopes to one day be the next Stevie Wonder.

"If you saw him out on the court you wouldn't even be able to tell that he was semi-blind," said Pleasant Valley head coach Ken Piontkowski. "Receiving passes are a little tough, but he knows where the rim is and shoots. He is great in practice too. He busts his butt. I told him he made the team because of his talents and not out of any pity."

Meanwhile, on the court, Williams is just 'any other player.' And he would have it no other way.

"What I like the most is that my teammates and coaches treat me like any other player," said Williams. "When I don't have the ball I am at a little bit of a handicap, but when I have the ball in my hands it feels like everything is regular again. I still feel like I can take anybody one-on-one."


RECORD THREES ... Northwestern's Kevin Oxley and Panther Valley's Dana McFadden recently set school records for three-pointers.

Oxley has 65 three-pointers this season, breaking the single-season record of 54 set by Ryan Shaughnessy during the 1994-95 campaign. On Tuesday, Oxley nailed six threes against Bangor to move past Shaughnessy as Northwestern's career three-point leader as well. Oxley now has 141 threes in his careeer, one more than Shaughnessy.

McFadden hit a pair of three-pointers in the Panthers' loss to Blue Mountain on Monday. They were her 41st and 42nd threes of the season, breaking Sue Lynn's girls basketball single-season record at Panther Valley. Earlier this season, McFadden broke Lynn's career three-point record.


LONG-DISTANCE INDIANS ... Despite their winless record, one thing Lehighton has done extremely well this year is shoot the three-point shot. The Indians have more threes than any other boys or girls team in the TIMES NEWS coverage area.

Lehighton continued thier three-point shooting success on Monday night against Tamaqua when they tied a school record with 12 threes against Tamaqua. Sophomore Nate Kresge led the Indians' perimeter attack in the game with five three-pointers all of them coming in the fourth quarter.

The team's 12 three-pointers matched the school record set on Feb. 9, 1997 in a loss to Northampton. In that game, Travis Hunsicker buried seven treys for the Indians.

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