Patient in Lighthouse’s Pangere Center Excels at Gymnastics despite Visual Impairment

April 12, 2019

She is adept at vaulting, agile at hanging from bars and quite proficient at walking on the high beam.

For her prowess at these and other gymnastic activities, she has been the recipient of 14 gold and silver medals from American Sokol, a national physical fitness organization.

What makes these achievements notable is that Irene Gogerty, a patient of world-renowned ophthalmologist Dr. Gerald Fishman in The Lighthouse’s Pangere Center, is legally blind and also copes with a learning disability.

“I have been visually impaired for almost my entire life,” Irene states, noting that she was diagnosed with the condition, retinitis pigmentosa when she was six or seven.

Despite her vision issues, however, Irene loved to exercise and stay active.  She had a particular interest in roller skating.

Who motivated her to participate in gymnastics and to become an eventual gold medal winner was her mother, Irena.

“I have been blessed with a loving and caring mom who always supported me and encouraged my involvement in sports,” Irene said.

To that end, at age 5, her mom enrolled her in a physical fitness organization, Sokol Tabor in Berwyn, which offered intensive training in such activities as gymnastics, track and field and dance.  She also set up a daily exercise regimen for Irene and encouraged her to persevere.

Also giving support was Irene’s lovable guide dog, Cuddles, whom she recruited from the Pilot Dogs School in Columbus, Ohio.

“Cuddles is literally my pride and joy and helps to motivate me,” she laughs.

Irene believes that keys to her success as an athlete have been her determination to strive for excellence, a self-confidence which was instilled by her mother and the sheer desire to show what someone who is visually impaired can do if given a chance to do it!

“I was bullied when I was a kid, but I learned to stand up for myself,” she recalled.  “When you are blind, or have another disability, you come to accept what you can or cannot do and eventually find your own comfort zone.”

In addition to excelling at gymnastics, Irene has shown that she is no slouch when it comes to academics either.  She compiled an outstanding record at Morton East High School and then went on to successfully complete a disability program at Triton College.

For her success, Irene not only credits her mom, but a good friend, Jane Ann Sterba, who not only offered encouragement but also wound up donating a large sum of money in Irene’s name to the guide dog school.

She also freely acknowledges the support she received from her husband, Michael.

“I love him to bits and appreciate his sunny disposition, which I attribute to his Irish ancestry,” she laughs, “though I am 100% Czech and am proud of it!”

Asked what her goals are for the future, Irene responds that she wants to keep on competing in gymnastics and winning more gold medals.

“By doing well at a competitive sport like gymnastics, I am demonstrating that I can compete on a level playing ground with people who don’t have disabilities,” she maintains.  “In my own way, I am helping to break down barriers and promote further inclusion for others in the disabled community!”

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