Thomas Panek, a blind man, successfully finished the New York City Half Marathon with some help from guide dogs.
Panek suffers from blindness for more than 25 years now. On Sunday, nothing stopped him from finishing the race. He crossed the finish line within just a little over 2 hours and 20 minutes.
Thanks to guide dogs, Panek became the first blind runner who successfully completed a race with the help of guide dogs.
Westley, Waffle, and Gus are Labrador retrievers who were Panek’s team of guide dogs. These three took turns guiding Panek throughout the entire marathon.
Panek is the CEO and president of a non-profit organization, Guiding Eyes for the Blind. The organization provides a programme where trained dogs help guide those who are visually impaired. According to their website, this programme is offered for free.
In the past, Panek tried running with a human guide. However, the experience is totally different compared to guide dogs assisting during the running.
Panek added, when another person is assisting you during a race, it feels like you’re not really running your own race. There is a lack of independence unlike when dogs guide people during a marathon.
In 2015, the Running Guides program was launched. This program particularly aims to help blind people to start running again.
They hired experts to gather and train guide dogs. The dogs are mainly German shepherds and Labrador retrievers. They are trained to run long distance races.
They start training 18-month old pups. Only a limited number of dogs are selected to join the Running Guide Dogs. Selected guide dogs make sure that they can assist the blind even while moving.
After the New York City Half Marathon, Panek, together with Gus, was pictured with a medal of completion.
According to Panek, it wasn’t just for the medal. He wanted to promote the mission of Guiding Eyes. He wanted to raise awareness that even visually impaired people can still run races.
The race helped raise funds for the Running Guides. The collected funds went to the guide dogs’ training and lifetime veterinary care.
Credits to CBS News for this wonderful story.