MAR 2014

EyeWorld is the official news magazine of the American Society of Cataract & Refractive Surgery.

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E W IN OTHER NEWS 204 March 2014 by Maxine Lipner EyeWorld Senior Contributing Writer Eye on the ball Ophthalmologist serves up success F or Eric W. Bligard, MD, Fort Dodge, Iowa, ophthal- mology is just one passion. He is also an ardent tennis player who has won two national championships in doubles in the over-45 and over-50 age groups. Not bad for a surgeon who also mixes his vacations with hu- manitarian work in countries such as Kenya and Nicaragua. Dr. Bligard recalled that in his early teens he loved basketball, not tennis. Unfortunately, he ended up rather small for basketball and not terribly suited for the sport. "I had a coach once tell me jokingly, 'You're small, but you make up for it by being slow,'" Dr. Bligard remem- bered with a laugh. Still, he remained on the team into high school. It was when he began look- ing for a spring sport that things took an unexpected turn. When he approached the baseball coach, he was told he would have to be better than some of the others, who were already practicing the sport year round, to make the team. Teaming up Overhearing the conversation, the tennis coach steered him in a new direction. "He said, 'Why don't you come out for the tennis team?'" Dr. Bligard recalled. "I said, 'I don't know how to play tennis.'" The coach was not deterred, promising to teach the young man, who had previously only played casually with his father. "The tennis coach said, 'Come on out, I've seen you play basketball and I think that you would like it,'" Dr. Bligard remem- bered. "I did, and by the end of the tennis season I knew that was what I wanted to do." During that time, he spent four hours a day playing tennis outside in the conducive Los Angeles weather. As a senior, he was ranked number four on the high school team, which had that year won the LA city championships. "By the time I graduated from high school I was good enough to play for the Univer- sity of Wisconsin in the Big 10," Dr. Bligard said. Two years later, he was poised to continue with this when he was ac- cepted into an accelerated medical school program that yielded a BA and MD from Johns Hopkins in five years. "That ended my college ten- nis," he said. Dr. Bligard didn't have the op- portunity take up the game again until he was in his residency, in New Orleans. Still, it wasn't until he was in practice in Iowa that he was able to begin competing again. Before long he was back in the groove. "The year I turned 38, I managed to be ranked number one in a five-state area, both in the open division and also the 35-and-over division," Dr. Bligard said, describing his top rank- ing in both divisions of the Missouri Valley section of the United States Tennis Association, "a kind of inter- esting accomplishment." He credits his movement on the court for getting him to that point. "My (junior high school) coach's comment about basketball aside, I'm fairly quick and have good court coverage," Dr. Bligard said. "I move well at the net and volley extremely well, I'm reasonably solid off the ground, and have a decent but not a big serve." It is his volley in particu- lar, he thinks, that has helped him to rise up the ranks in doubles, where he has nabbed two national titles—the men's 45-and-over hard court championships in Westlake, Calif., and the 50-and-over hard court championships in Santa Barbara. The first of these wins in partic- ular took Dr. Bligard by complete surprise. He and his partner were in the unenviable position of playing the number one seeds, who hadn't lost a match in three years. "We were huge underdogs," he said. Still, they were able to take the title in two straight sets, although Dr. Bligard is quick to acknowledge that they were fortunate. "The first set there were no (service) breaks, and we went into a tie breaker and managed to get behind 6 to 3 in the tie break, before we got hot and won it 8 to 6," he said. The second set was even more memorable. He de- scribed the other team as big servers. Nevertheless, Dr. Bligard and his partner managed to get the break. Then it was Dr. Bligard's turn to serve. "My partner had a bit more experience at that level—he played on the pro tour for awhile," Dr. Bligard said. "He told me to hit the biggest kick serves I had, get in tight to the net and hit the volleys." For three straight points the tactic worked, putting the underdog team up 40 love. At match point, how- ever, things went awry. "The guy returning my serve anticipated the kind of serve that I was hitting and smacked it right into my partner's chest at about 120 miles an hour," he recalled. "I walked over to my partner and said, 'I'm sorry, I didn't mean to get you hurt, what do I do now? He looked at me and said, 'We won 3 out of 4 points, do it again.'" Dr. Bligard took his advice. The player returning serve, meanwhile, tried to crack a winner, but hit the tape, ending the memorable match. Humanitarian efforts Tennis aside, Dr. Bligard also partici- pates in humanitarian pursuits. This interest was kindled in his residency, he recalled, when Dr. George F. Nardin took a group of young doctors down to Mexico. Since then, Dr. Bligard has been pursuing such Dr. Bligard's good court coverage and ability to volley well have helped him secure two national senior doubles championships, among other titles. In winning the men's 45-and-older hard court doubles championship in which Dr. Bligard and his partner toppled the number one seeds, it ultimately rested on the ophthalmologist's service game. Source (all): Eric W. Bligard, MD 204-208 ION_EW March 2014-DL_Layout 1 3/6/14 4:42 PM Page 204

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