The players on the Manual (Louisville, Kentucky) sideline screamed “Go Ellie!” to cheer on their teammate during last Tuesday’s field hockey game against Sacred Heart. Without missing a beat, Manual’s student manager Addison Evers, standing on the far left side of the Crimsons’ bench, repeated “Go Ellie!”
Then, she pulled the scorebook close to her face, about 7 inches away, to jot down a statistic and looked back up to the field, searching for the ball.
But Evers couldn’t see much of the field. In fact, the senior had no idea why the team was screaming teammate Ellie Wheatley’s name. Born with albinism, an inherited genetic condition that reduces the amount of melanin pigment formed in one’s skin, hair and/or eyes, Evers has had a visual impairment her whole life. Her vision has deteriorated through high school to a point in which she is now legally blind.
“If the ball’s not in front of me, I can’t see very well,” she said. “I cannot tell who’s who. If they’re playing in the center of the field, I know who’s playing center mids, so I know who they are. Otherwise, no. I can’t see the players on other side of the field at all. Typically, if I’m cheering for them, it’s because I know they’re on that field conceptually.”
For instance, when Wheatley is close to the bench, Evers can identify her because Wheatley wears an orange headband, and Evers can see the streak of color, not because she can make out her teammate’s face. When Wheatley is on the other side of the field, Evers can’t see her at all.
“It’s hazy,” she said. “It’s like looking through a camera and you have to focus it. You see some color, some thing, but it’s out of focus.”
She is one of 20,000 people who have some type of albinism in the United States, according to the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation.
After playing field hockey for more than a decade, Evers took herself off the team because she knew it was too dangerous to play with poor vision. But she couldn’t stay away and became the Crimsons’ student manager.
“We have always said do what you can do, and if there’s something you want to do, we’ll figure out how to do it,” her mother, Missy Evers, said. “We’ve never told her that she can’t do anything.”
Addison Evers was diagnosed at her 2-month-old checkup. Both of her parents carry the recessive gene of albinism.
“Her dad had seen her eyes dilate really big, so I mentioned it to the doctor,” said Missy Evers, who’s been teaching at the Kentucky School for the Blind for eight years and worked in the visual field for 18 years. “It scared me to death that they sent her to see a specialist the very next day. Then when they told me she had it.”
“I was more upset about the albinism than the visual impairment because I know she could be successful with visual impairment. I was afraid people would make fun of her for the albinism.”
Her fear became a reality when Addison’s’ peers mocked her for being pale, cross-eyed and having shaky eyes in elementary school.
But Evers shook off the affront and embraced her conditions.
“I got called a light bulb when I was 9 years old because I was so pale and would reflect,” she said. “It really hurt me, but I told my mom that I wanted to be a light bulb for Halloween that year. I took the insult and made it my own. I took it with pride.”