NEWS FROM LIFE, INC

Blind Man Runs Half Marathon with Dogs

For many, completing a half marathon is all about putting one foot in front of the other. For runner Thomas Panek, a few paws also helped get him to the finish line.

He made history becoming the first blind runner to complete the New York City Half Marathon using guide dogs, instead of human guides. He finished the race in just over 2 hours and 20 minutes.

He utilized a team of Labrador retrievers: Waffle, Westley, and Gus, who took turns running. The dogs set their own pace and each ran between 3 to 5 miles.

Panel is president and CEO of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a non-profit that provides trained dogs free of charge for the blind and visually impaired.

Panel lost his sight over 25 years ago. After he adjusted to being blind, he started running with a human guide, but it just wasn’t the same. “When you’re tied to another person, it’s no longer your own race. The independence isn’t quite there,” Panek said.

With his non-profit, he created a team of experts to train a group of dogs, mostly Labradors and German shepherds, to run long distances. The pups start their training at 18 months old, but only a select group actually become running guide dogs. 

The skillset for the dogs are the same: looking for overhead obstacles, making sure the person remains safe as they are mobile.

In 2017, Panek completed a 5 mile race with Gus, his longtime guide dog. A little over a year later, that same pup helped him across the finish line of the half marathon. After receiving the shining medal, Gus retired. But the race wasn’t just for the medal, it was to raise funds for the program which goes toward the training and lifetime vet care of the dogs in the program. For more information check out www.guidingeyes.org.

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