It’s 3:15 am on Monday morning, and Maureen Neitz, PhD, Ray H. Hill endowed professor in ophthalmology at UW School of Medicine, is popping out of bed to start her stretches and warmup exercises.
At 5:30 am, while most of us are hitting snooze, Neitz is hitting the ice.
Neitz ice skates every day: three hours before work and extra hours on the weekends, too. She’s aided by a whole team of coaches, from spin and jump experts to choreography and dance specialists.
“I just love the sensation of skating,” Neitz says. “I love working on it.”
Neitz puts the same determination into her ice skating as she does her work as a vision scientist in the Department of Ophthalmology.
Recently, she’s made major breakthroughs in both.
A scientist and skater
Neitz and her husband, Jay Neitz, PhD, joined UW Medicine in 2009, where they continued with their work researching myopia, or nearsightedness, started at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Neitz’s ice skating roots also trace back to Wisconsin.
Though she’d played on roller skates as a kid and took some group classes in high school, it wasn’t until her daughter started lessons that Neitz decided to truly take to the ice herself.
“I had to start at the beginning,” she says. “I was 49 years old and I just loved it.”
A daily practice
Neitz has come a long way from those first practices.
She works to learn specific moves and pass tests, moving up through levels from pre-preliminary to eventually, she hopes, senior.
A couple months ago, she passed a test on foot work that she’s been working on for eight years.
“I failed that test five times, but the fact is I could go out there and do the test today no problem. Passing it has given me the confidence to advance to the next level test,” she says.
Neitz likens this daily practice and slow progress to her work as a scientist.
“Being a scientist has a lot of frustrations to it, a lot of ups and downs. Those victories are decades in the making,” she says.
One such frustration came in Wisconsin after the Neitzes developed eyeglass lenses that can slow the progression of myopia. The project went through initial testing and got so far as being picked up by a commercial company before hitting a major setback: The company had been bought, and the new leadership did not want to continue with the lenses.
Luckily, Neitz is no quitter.
With the help of UW Medicine, she and her husband co-founded their own commercial company to create the glasses: SightGlass Vision.
A breakthrough moment
In March, Neitz participated in her first-ever ice skating competition.
“I have no idea what prompted me to do it, but it was so much fun,” she says.
Neitz competed in the top level in both free skate and dance for adults 56 to 66 years old.
“I came in dead last in both of my events but was happy with the way I skated,” she says. “I consider everything I accomplish on the ice a victory.”
In April 2020, Neitz’s company released exciting data from year one of a three-year clinical trial of their lenses.
The clinical study showed that the lenses reduced myopia progression in children, which means the lenses can help prevent blindness around the world.
Though the U.S. requires three years of data before the glasses can go commercial, Neitz is excited about the future. In the meantime, the glasses can be delivered to people who need them in other countries that only require one year of data.
As for Neitz, she plans to keep working and skating.
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in temporary closures of ice skating rinks, but that won’t stop her. Neitz is currently working on new moves and routines using in-line skates that mimic the feel of her ice skates.
“I feel so lucky to have a sport that I love so much. My goal is to go back and keep skating every day," she says.
A killer routine
Watch Neitz’s dance routine from the skating competition.