A man became the first blind person to complete the New York half marathon with the help of 3 labradors who had little running shoes on their paws

Business Insider US
Thomas Panek is the first visually-impaired man to complete the New York City Half Marathon with guide dogs.

  • Thomas Panek, a 48-year-old man, becomes the first blind person to complete the New York City Half Marathon with the help of guide dogs.
  • He ran with three guide dogs, Westley, Waffle, and Gus.
  • The labradors even had little running shoes on their paws.

A man has made history by becoming the first blind person to complete the New York City Half Marathon with guide dogs.

Thomas Panek, 48, achieved the impressive feat with the help of three guide dogs, Westley, Waffle, and Gus.

Wearing little shoes over their paws, the trio of labrador retrievers took turns guiding Panek, who is the president and CEO of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, round the 21km route.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind President and CEO, Thomas Panek, completed the first-ever 2019 United Airlines NYC Half led completely by guide dog.

Each dog set their own pace and ran for three to five miles, being regularly checked by vets and volunteers along the route to ensure their hydration, health, and safety.

Gus is a seven-year-old golden labrador and the oldest member of the running team, who loves paw massages, snuggling, and playing Frisbee. He's Panek's long-time companion, and was the one to cross the finish line in Central Park.

Gus is Panek's long-time guide dog.

Finishing the race with Gus was a big moment for Panek: "It's a little emotional for me because he's been there with me the whole time," he said.

Waffle is also a golden lab, nearly two years old, the fastest and only female dog on the team, and she loves peanut butter, carrots, and snuggling.

Big black lab Westley is Waffle's brother and has a penchant for swimming, DuraChew Antlers, and getting his bum scratched, according to his profile on the Guiding Eyes website.


"It's really a team," Panek said, reported by CNN.

And the team completed the race in just under two hours and 21 minutes.

Panek has always been a keen runner, but he lost his sight in his early 20s.

Gus and Waffle watch the runners.

Adamant not to give up running, Panek has managed to complete an impressive 20 marathons with the help of human guides, but he'd never run without another person supporting him, and he missed the independence.

This was the main reason he decided to set up a training programme for running guide dogs.

Panek and Waffle.

"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," he said.

"It was just a matter of bucking conventional wisdom and saying why not."

Panek crosses the finish line.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a charity which trains guide dogs for the visually impaired, based in Westchester County, New York. In 2015, the organisation founded its "Running Guides" programme, with 24 dogs having now completed it.

Not all dogs make the cut though - they need to be extremely discplined, fit, and healthy.

For Panek, having a strong bond with his dogs was crucial too, and he trained with them for months.

"The bond is really important," he said. "You can't just pick up the harness and go for a run with these dogs.

"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."

Panek hopes his achievement will encourage others with disabilities to challenge what they think they can and can't do.

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