A blind man and three of his guide dogs have been hailed the first such quartet ever to complete the New York City half-marathon.
By Published on 19 Mar 2019
President and CEO of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Thomas Panek was accompanied at different points along the 13.1 mile course by guide dogs Westley, Waffle and Gus.
Panek chose his own guide dog Gus to accompany him for the final 3.1 miles of the race.
Avid funrunner Panek has completed 20 marathons but only with the help of a human guide. The feeling of dependance on another human runner was something Panek disliked and it caused him to consider a new approach.
‘It never made sense to me to walk out the door and leave my guide dog behind when I love to run and they love to run,’ Panek told CNN after the race. ‘It was just a matter of bucking conventional wisdom and saying why not.’
Running guide dogs are specially-trained
The three Labrador Retrievers are according to sources the first four-legged athletes ever to participate in the NYC half-marathon. All three dogs were chosen due to their stamina and guiding ability, and underwent rigorous ‘Running Guide’ training by volunteers of Panek’s charity.
So far 24 dogs have completed the program but not every dog is able to withstand the rigours of the training; running outside is a challenge to dogs as well as humans.
‘The bond is really important. You can't just pick up the harness and go for a run with these dogs,’ Panek said. ‘You're training with a team no matter what kind of athlete you are, and you want to spend time together in that training camp.’
Each of the three dogs accompanied Panek on various legs of the New York run.
Panek hopes his finishing the half-marathon will inspire others with impaired sight to join in the fun next year.
‘Running with your dog is wonderful,’ Panek added, ‘and if they can do a job while they're doing it and sure, it happens to be 13.1 miles through the streets of New York city but we're going to get it done. I know we will.’