As an optometrist working at one of the foremost eye centers in the world, the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute’s Rob Chun has plenty of challenging assignments to tackle. He sees patients with mild to moderate chronic vision impairments or total vision loss, but a few years back, the assistant professor of ophthalmology was given another big assignment. That’s when a mentor in Chicago nominated Chun to become one of a handful of certified international vision impairment classifiers for the International Paralympic Committee.
The Paralympics organizes global competitions in all sorts of sports for people with a range of physical impairments, from amputation to blindness. Chun travels the world three or four times a year to attend various Paralympics events, where he evaluates and classifies the competitors according to their visual abilities.
“I have a background in visual function and electrophysiological testing, which helps properly assess the athletes’ visual capabilities. That particular combination is important to the International Paralympic Committee. It was a natural fit,” Chun says.
Chun is now one of just four trained and certified classifiers in the United States, and one of only 60 or so in the world. There is a great need for such services, he says. “The Paralympics has a lot of events at different levels of talent and age. We evaluate and classify athletes so that people with similar visual abilities are competing against one another.”
In March, Chun made his way to Rio de Janiero, Brazil, for the Para-cycling Track World Championships. He has worked events ranging from track and field and skiing to a soccerlike sport called goalball, created specifically for blind participants. In goalball, the players are blindfolded to ensure a more equitable level of impairment for all.
As for personal rewards of the work, Chun enjoys traveling and meeting doctors and athletes from around the world, but he also sees the impact on his youngest patients. “I talk about it with them. I use it as motivation. Learning that others with vision impairment can compete in sports really inspires them to live a full life,” Chun says.