When a friend asks you to check out their Nikes, you might be looking into their eyes instead of at their feet.

That's because the shoe and apparel giant has come out with new contact lenses specially designed for athletes called MaxSight. Designed to filter out ultraviolet light, the new technology is said to make the ball and its surroundings appear more crisp through the company's patented technology.

Seven years in the making and produced in a joint venture with Nike Inc. and Bausch & Lomb, the lenses were cleared by the Food and Drug Administration last May. They currently are being tested by professional athletes, and interest is filtering down to the college level.

MaxSight is a soft contact lens that eliminates glare and increases contrast. Two tints are available and are tuned to different sporting needs.

The gray-green tint is recommended for athletes who compete in bright sunlight to improve detail and contour in sports such as football, golf, rugby and running. The amber tint is recommended for athletes who play fast-moving sports in variable sunlight such as baseball, softball, soccer and tennis.

As a member of the UNI sports medicine team, the EyeCare Associates P.C., 999 Home Plaza, Waterloo, has been fitting UNI softball players for the sport-tinted contact lenses.

"Nike MaxSight contact lenses are unlike any other contact lens on the market," said eye-care professional Dr. Steve Boeke. "The patented Light Architecture optics selectively filters specific wavelengths of light to enhance contrast and reduce discomfort and stress associated with glare. The edge-to-edge tint in the contact lens covers the entire cornea, eliminating stray light. No other contact lens uses specific tints to minimize chromatic aberration which enhances clarity and contour recognition for sharper contrast and crisp, clear vision.

"Whether the lenses catch on or not really depends on whether the athletes truly believe that the sport-tinted contact lenses actually enhance their ability to win. Athletes are always looking for incremental improvements in their ability to compete. If theses tinted contacts give them a competitive advantage, the lenses will be popular. If the contacts are popular at the college level, it will trickle down to the high school level."

Stefaney Shalla is one of the UNI softball team members who is using the new Nike contacts.

"I think they really enhance my vision," she said. "They really block the sun or lights, which is great for the outfield. They help you see the ball better also; it makes it stand out a little more."

Shalla said getting used to the Nike contacts wasn't really a big deal, because she wears contacts every day.

"Everything is a little orange, but I didn't have a problem," she said. "There are girls who have them who do not usually wear contacts. They are a little thicker than regular contacts."

Some who wear the vision enhancement contacts say that they can be used as an intimidation factor because of the way they make your eyes look.

"They can be scary if you haven't heard about them before," Shalla said. "Your eye is a bright red tint, and people often take a second glance at you. They are a very different, but cool, look."

Stephanie Aguero, shortstop for the UNI softball team, agreed that the new Nike contacts are very different looking.

"I tried them back home in Muscatine this summer," she said. "I liked them a lot. They really make everything look a different color, and they seem to help me track the ball better. I like the fact that I don't have to wear sunglasses anymore, and I am not squinting at the sun.

"My sister wears them for high school softball back home and really likes them. She is a catcher, so she can't wear sunglasses. They are very helpful to her."

Boeke believes there are benefits to using the contact lenses rather than traditional sunglasses, but doesn't totally discount the standard eye protection.

"In many respects they are better than sunglasses, because the contacts eliminate frame and nosepiece obstruction: no lens fogging, sweat or fit issues," Boeke said. "However, the contact lenses do not protect the rest of the front of the eye and eyelid from the harmful rays of the sun like sunglasses do. So, they do not totally replace sunglasses."

According to Boeke, the high technology lenses work by reducing visual noise and the stress associated with glare.

"By blocking specific wavelengths of light, details appear clearer and pop off the background," he said. "The tinted contacts also filter out 95 percent of UVA and UVB and more than 90 percent of harmful blue light. Golfers claim that they can visualize the contour of the green better with the improved contrast that the contacts provide. Softball and baseball players claim that they can see the spin on the ball because they can actually visualize the stitches on the ball better. This aids in their ability to hit and field the ball."

In order to be fitted for the new Nike product, a comprehensive eye and vision exam is conducted by a vision specialist at the EyeCare Associates. First, all of the information is gathered that is needed to fit an athlete with the contact lenses. The contact lens parameters are determined, and then the athlete is given instructions on care and handling along with a free trial pair of the tinted contacts and a lens care kit.

The athlete is instructed to wear the lenses when they are practicing and playing their sport. A follow-up appointment is made to get feedback and to finalize the contact lens prescription. If the athlete wishes to proceed with acquiring the contacts, an order is placed for a supply of the lenses. The lenses are packaged in six-lens multipacks.

The EyeCare Associates give a predefined amount of eyewear, contacts lenses (not just MaxSight tinted) and professional services to the UNI athletes free of charge through the UNI Scholarship Club. It is up to the UNI trainers to determine how to make the best use of these products and services.

"The trainers are free to send athletes from any sport to see us," Boeke said. "We are a group of doctors who have expressed an interest in helping UNI athletes the best way we know how. We enjoy the opportunity to work with these wonderful student-athletes. We take great pride in helping UNI athletes succeed."

As of now, the new Nike MaxSight contact lenses are perfectly legal for college athletes to use, confirmed Don Bishop, UNI head atletic trainer.

"I do think there will be more research into this, and I am sure the NCAA will be looking at this closely," he said. "I honestly don't think I have had a large enough number of athletes who use the product yet to have a strong opinion. However, I do understand and appreciate the potential positive results that can be gained by using the product."

For more information about Nike MaxSight contact lenses, contact the EyeCare Associates P.C. by calling 232-7762, ext. 14. For appointments, call 236-0815.

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