A blind runner and his three guide dogs made history on Sunday by completing the 2019 United Airlines New York City Half Marathon without the assistance of another runner.
Thomas Panek, president and CEO of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, was the first-ever blind runner to complete the race while being led by a relay of three guide dogs.
The Labrador retrievers, Waffle, Westley and Gus, took turns guiding the 48-year-old towards the finish line, a feat the human-canine team completed in just under two-and-a-half hours.
Westley started the race with Panek, covering the first eight kilometres, before tagging off with Waffle.
“She was on fire on the FDR!” Panek said of the dog in a statement. “She took off like there was no tomorrow!”
Gus, the “team’s anchor and seasoned veteran,” finished off the last 4.8 kilometres, crossing the finish line with Panek.
Speaking with CBS, Panek said he had always been a runner, but lost his eyesight just over 25 years ago, noting he was too scared to run after losing his vision. After adjusting to being blind, we began to run with a human guide.
“Although many people run with running clubs, at the end of the day you’re running your own race. And when you’re tied to another person, it’s no longer your own race,” he told the news outlet. “The independence isn’t quite there.”
In 2015, Panek created a “Running Guides” program at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, an organization that has trained guide dogs for the visually impaired.
“Baseline skill set for a guide dog and running dog are the same,” Panek explained. “They’re looking for overhead obstacles and making sure that the person who’s blind like me remains safe as we’re mobile.”
Following the race, Guiding Eyes for the Blind announced that Gus will be hanging up his four running shoes to lead a relaxing life as a retired service dog.
All four of these runners deserve a steak.
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