Dr. Kellye Knueppel’s trip to Athens was a combination of diagnosing difficult vision problems, meeting new friends, and experiencing an international thrill few of us will ever see.
Her trip to Greece for the Special Olympics Summer World Games began with a brief stay in Budapest, Hungary, where she visited optometrist Dora Domotor. While primarily a social visit, Dr. Knueppel and Dr. Domotor usually can’t help but spend a lot of time talking vision therapy when they are together. This time the main topic was vision therapy techniques using prisms.
From Budapest, she travelled to Athens, where her mother Barbara joined her. Together, they attended the Special Olympics opening ceremony on Saturday, and were amazed by the spectacle. “It was very close to an Olympic Games opening ceremony,” she said. “It wasn’t as over the top as the China opening ceremonies, but it was similar to past summer or winter Olympic Games.”
Highlights included thousands of dancers, popular Greek singers, the Presidential guard and band, and a sequence in which drummers played on clay pots. “They then broke the pots, which was meant to symbolize breaking barriers,” Dr. Knueppel remarked.
The athletes then filed in, just as they do in the regular Olympics. The countries are sorted alphabetically, using the host country’s alphabet. “Part of the fun was trying to guess which country would be next,” she said. It took two hours for the athletes to arrive. The ceremony, which began at 8pm, concluded at 1am.
The logistics of the event were amazing. The Greeks had to bus the delegates, 7,000 athletes, and 25,000 volunteers -- all while the country was experiencing significant protest around the center of the city, which also happened to be the hub of the transit system.
When the games were underway, Dr. Knueppel began her volunteer work with the Special Olympics Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes program. Just as in Wisconsin, the program provides Special Olympics athletes with vision screening and free prescription eyewear, sunglasses and sports goggles.
In Athens, Dr. Knueppel’s role was different from what she does back in the states. Instead of coordinating the effort, she was one of the workers. She prescribed lenses all day, every day for a week. “I worked 9am until 7pm, from Tuesday to Monday. I did have Saturday off.”
She was one of seven international volunteers. The others hailed from Nigeria, Germany, Lebanon, South Korea, Ecuador, and Houston, Texas. All the international volunteers spoke English, which allowed for fruitful discussions about vision therapy. “The Greek optometrist running the program was a vision therapy optometrist,” she remarked. “And I worked with a Nigerian optometrist who is very interested in behavioral optometry. She has been doing some vision therapy in her practice in Lagos, but wants to add a lot more.
Dr. Knueppel did manage to get some sight-seeing in, taking in the Acropolis, the Parthenon, and even a short cruise around the Greek islands.
After the games culminated in a spectacular closing ceremony, Dr. Knueppel moved on to the United Kingdom, where she visited with another vision therapist colleague. Then it was home to America.
It was an exhausting but highly rewarding experience, and Dr. Knueppel hopes to volunteer again at the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. That would make seven world games, including this one. “I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity,” she said.
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