If you live in the Glen Oaks neighborhood of Rye, you’re probably used to the sight of a parade of three children dribbling basketballs around the block.
By Sarah Varney
If you live in the Glen Oaks neighborhood of Rye, you’re probably used to the sight of a parade of three children dribbling basketballs around the block. Some evenings, the children walk backwards as they dribble, and sometimes these basketball acolytes are hobbled with ankle weights. Usually they’re led by their father who is very tall and wears fluorescent orange sneakers. Occasionally, one of the children will wear a sort of bandage-like brace that resembles half a straitjacket. The purpose is to hold down one arm so that the dribbler learns not to favor one hand over another.
They bounce the ball intently but there’s no tension and it’s clear they’re having fun. Welcome to the basketball-obsessed world of Rob Latkany and his three equally b-ball obsessed kids: Brian, 12, Amanda, 10, and Luke, 6. The littlest Laktany, Robbie is just 8 months old and is a red-shirt for now.
Dr. Robert Latkany, world-renowned eye surgeon and dry eye relief specialist by day, is an admittedly “Crazy Sports Dad” after 5 p.m. each day and for ten hours on Saturdays and Sundays. The obsession is in the blood. Latkany comes from a Rye sports family with five children, who over the years won awards for everything from race-walking to golf. Each Latkany child was limited to three sports and no contact sports were allowed. “My father was everywhere. Because I was the youngest I got a lot of attention. At one point I was on five basketball teams at the same time. I look back now and I wonder how it was humanly possible for him to get us all to our different games,” he says.
Until his junior year of high school, he’d planned on a career as a professional golfer or a pro basketball player. His mother set him straight shortly afterward and he went to Columbia University instead. He studied medicine at Boston University and did his ophthalmology training at New York Eye and Ear. At Boston University, he met his wife-to-be, Barbara Lock, who now works full-time as an emergency medicine physician at Columbia Presbyterian.
Early on, Latkany realized that the typical 80-hour physician workweek routine wasn’t for him. “When my brother was practicing internal medicine we’d be talking and suddenly he wouldn’t answer because he’d fallen asleep on the phone,” he recounts. That brother, who now practices in the city, saw the light not long after that and switched to ophthalmology.
“I knew that I wanted a family and I wanted time to play sports with the kids,” he adds.
During his training as a surgeon performing cataract and Lasix operations, he saw that about 10 percent of these patients suffered chronic problems with dry eyes post-operatively. “I was seeing probably 30 patients a day with dry eye problems and these were mostly high-end Lasix patients who weren’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer as far as feeling better. So I figured out ways to make them comfortable,” he says.
Latkany found that there was very little research about post-op dry eye problems and saw an opening for a specialty that he could incubate and grow quickly. “The kids were little. They couldn’t dribble a basketball yet, so I had time to do research,” he says. In 2007, he published a guide to dry eye relief, “The Dry Eye Remedy,” which has sold 30,000 copies.
For the past five years his schedule has allowed him to coach his son Brian’s team and start his own junior AAU league with teams for both Brian and Amanda. Luke receives one–on-one basketball training most evenings and he and Amanda also play soccer. But Latkany has learned that coaching one’s own child on a team isn’t the best approach overall. “It’s better to find a really good coach and step back.”
Latkany admits that in the far recesses of his brain, there is always the slightest worry that one of his kids will decide to give up participating in basketball or any sports for that matter. “It’s always a concern. You can’t force them. I enjoy it and it gives me the opportunity to connect with them on a different level. The only way I’d ever fail with this is if it negatively affects my relationship with my kids,” he adds. For now, “I’m having fun because they’re having fun.”