Alum Jennifer Stewart achieves her dream to open a sports vision training center
For competitive athletes, visual skills can make the difference between success and failure.
“I’ve had a number of hockey and lacrosse goalies who are 20/25,” says Jennifer Stewart, OD ’07. “Most optometrists would say your vision is fine, see you in a year. But for them, anything less than perfect could be significant in their playing career.”
Dr. Stewart is Chief Vision Officer and co-founder of Performance 20/20 in Stamford, Connecticut, a sports and performance vision training center. She and a team of trainers help athletes get that competitive edge by sharpening the visual system and cognitive skills. A partner at Norwalk Eye Care, Dr. Stewart launched Performance 20/20 as a separate business in 2017. This achievement was her dream come true—and one she began pursuing at NECO.
At Performance 20/20, athletes sweat it out in highly personalized training plans combining agility, coordination, focus, speed, and balance. They range in age from school-aged youth to college students and adults. Their sports run the gamut—hockey, baseball, basketball, football, soccer, tennis, volleyball, squash—you name it.
Dr. Stewart has gained a national reputation as a sports vision therapy expert, with an elite client list that includes pro athletes from the NHL, NFL, and NBA. Clients may come for general performance enhancement or to work on specific issues, such as a figure skater who has problems with left side turns, a baseball player who wants to improve his fastball, or a hockey goalie who needs faster coordination to stop an incoming puck at 90 mph.
The center uses standard vision therapy equipment and advanced technology, such as the Senaptec Sensory Station, which assesses 10 visual and sensorimotor skills. Athletes may train to improve hand-eye and body-eye coordination, tracking, focus, visual reaction time, depth perception, and peripheral vision. Their plans may also include corrective contact lenses and/or sports safety glasses, along with special exercises focused on their strengths and weaknesses.
“My job is not only to help these athletes be better performers, but also to make sure that they’re as safe as possible when they walk out on that field,” Dr. Stewart says. “And that includes making sure they’re wearing proper eyewear, proper safety eyewear, and seeing well.” Clients report not only improved performance in their sports, but some do better in their studies as well.
“I’ve been an athlete my whole life,” says Dr. Stewart, a Division 1 track and field athlete in college who has also competed in triathlons and marathons. “When I decided to become an optometrist, I wanted to find a way to combine my love of sports and athletics with a career.”
While at NECO, a family friend put Dr. Stewart in touch with sports vision pioneer Don Teig, OD, who served as an informal mentor. Dr. Stewart then rallied other students and founded the NECO Performance Vision Club, which remains active to this day.
Since then, Dr. Stewart has received the Theia Award for Innovation by Women in Optometry in 2019 for her work in sports and performance vision. She was also named to the Advisory Board for the International Sports Vision Association (ISVA).
Dr. Stewart credits the spirit of innovation and camaraderie at NECO for launching her on her career path. “The day that I graduated, I felt so confident to step into patient care and so prepared for the world,” she says. “The friendships I made, the education I had, the community that the school builds are nothing short of incredible. I’m unbelievably proud to be an alumnus of New England College of Optometry.”