Cycle for Sight

Cycle for Sight

Madison Magazine: Please describe your involvement with the McPherson Eye Research Institute (McPherson ERI).
I help with recruiting participants for Cycle for Sight, particularly people who are blind or have low vision due to genetic eye disease. I was in the field of vision rehabilitation for over 30 years as a low vision therapist and an orientation and mobility instructor and I met a lot of great people who, due to genetics, ended up losing some or all of their eyesight.

I am also a volunteer member of the Outreach Committee. We create public information and awareness modules that the McPherson ERI volunteers can use when making presentations. For example, we have packages that are great for school science fairs and similar events on the topics of vision impairment and optical illusions. Currently, the committee is creating a new presentation on UV light and how to protect the eyes. We also help with an annual public event about vision. Typically in June and, most recently, at the UW Arboretum, the presentations have focused (no pun intended) on the visual systems of insects and birds.

MM: What has been the most beneficial element of this organization for you?
My brain – my thinking – is stimulated every time I participate in a McPherson ERI event. The seminars and lectures, while sometimes way outside of the scope of my knowledge and background, are fascinating – a window into worlds that others live and breath: genetics, biology, pathology, engineering, computational optics, psychology, and human development. Sometimes, there is a Q&A exchange after a seminar in which I truly believe we can see the germination of a new idea as the presenter and audience members consider new information from a different point of view. Not to be too romantic about it, but there’s an electricity in the air at that point. It’s fascinating.

MM: How has the McPherson Eye Research Institute and its events enhanced the Madison community?
For those who have an interest in vision – in the broadest sense of the word – the McPherson ERI is a place where one can present or consider new ideas. The events that are presented range from cutting edge research to basic information about vision and eyes from the cellular to the cultural. By providing a greenhouse for research and ideas, the McPherson ERI helps to keep UW-Madison as a world leader in vision research. This, in turn, helps to foster growth and development in departments and labs throughout the UW, which brings in more resources that can benefit a number of other environments.

MM: Please tell us about the upcoming Cycle for Sight event. 
Cycle for Sight is an indoor ride on spinning bikes that will take place at four Madison locations – two on campus (the Nat and SERF), and the Princeton Club and Flyght Cycle on the west side. The ride brings together several hundred (or more) riders, both sighted and blind, with the proceeds supporting research into blinding diseases. Registration is $15 per person at all locations except Flyght Cycle, which is aiming high with a $100-per-bike minimum. People can ride as individuals or form teams; the teams that raise the most money will take home a team prize. We’d really like as many supporters as possible to sign up! It’s a great chance to do good and get some exercise at the same time (although you can go at your own pace!)

MM: What is your favorite part of the Cycle for Sight event?
Being with the people I know who have a vision impairment and who come to ride in CFS. As with many inherited disorders, one can be left feeling powerless since there usually isn’t any type of effective treatment to stop or reverse the condition. I think that Cycle for Sight gives each person an opportunity to do something. And it gives friends and families the opportunity to show their support, too. While no one thinks that their personal donation is going to change the course of research, the sense of working as a community including those with the same or similar eye disease can be very empowering. I’ve really enjoyed seeing the camaraderie that forms between people who may have little in common except a desire to do something about eye disease. 

MM: How does Cycle for Sight help the McPherson Eye Research Institute?
The McPherson ERI exists to cure blinding diseases, and to support collaborations among researchers that will speed up these cures and treatments. So the funding for this is important, of course. But beyond that, one of our founding purposes is to loop the larger community into the work that is being done at UW-Madison and other institutions in Wisconsin – and to show them the hope that we see in our members’ laboratories every day. It’s critical that the Wisconsin community support the schools and institutions that are doing this research! Cycle for Sight is a great way to reach out both to those in the community who struggle with vision issues – and those who may, someday. 

MM: How can the community get involved with both Cycle for Sight and the organization as a whole? 
Anyone (twelve and over) can get involved with Cycle for Sight by riding – there are plenty of slots! And for anyone who can’t ride, or can’t ride on that day, there are other options. You can sign up to ride, and then ride at a time & place of your own choosing (including your basement); you can also walk on the indoor track at the Princeton Club on March 12th. And of course, you can always donate to support the ride and the Institute. Beyond this, the Institute sponsors free lectures and seminars on vision science which are noted on our website; and you can always contact Institute staff if you have questions about our members’ research.

MM: What do you want others to know about McPherson Eye Research Institute?
When we think of “vision”, I think we mostly think of the eyes. But, vision is so much more than the focusing of light on the retina. No question about it, the process of light energy being transformed into a brain stimulation – and then having meaning — is pretty amazing, and understanding the various parts of the system is incredible, but when you start to consider how this happens in other species, and what does it mean to “see” in terms of what we process and what we don’t, and how we might be able to fix what breaks, and could a machine be made that do this … the possibilities are endless.

We tend to think of great research advances coming out of far-away places like Harvard or Stanford…and I’d like them to know that some of these advances, in vision science and in other fields as well, are being made in our own backyard. I’ve interacted with many McPherson ERI member-scientists, and I can tell you that their work is unequaled, and exciting for those of us who work with people who are blind or visually impaired.

Cycle for Sight will be held on March 12th at various locations. For more information visit vision.wisc.edu