Blind Runner Completes Half Marathon Led Only By Guide Dogs
Thomas Panek has run more than 20 marathons in his life but this was the first using only guide dogs.
The 48-year-old was reduced to tears as he crossed the finish line, clocking 21 kilometres in just under two-and-a-half hours.
His trio of Labrador Retriever running dogs: Westley, Waffle and Gus, set their own pace, tackled different legs of the race and ultimately guided Panek through the entire course, without any hiccups.
It's the first time the New York City half marathon had been completed by a visually-impaired runner without a human guide.
Panek -- who is the president and CEO of Guiding Eyes for the Blind -- lost his eyesight when he was in his early 20's.
While he continued running dozens of marathons with human guides, he missed the feeling of independence, CNN reported.
Dedicated to the sport, he launched a formal dog training program for running guide dogs, the first-of-its-kind in the world
"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."
Two dozen dogs have completed the program since its launch in 2015, 12 more are halfway to graduation.
When they graduate, each individual dog is matched with an applicant -- the newly formed team is even trained by Guiding Eyes, free of charge.
Panek and his three running guides had been running for many months, through every possible weather condition to ensure they were fit and ready for Sunday's race.
To make the run extra special, Gus, Panek's personal guide dog for years, ran the last leg of the race before retiring at the finish line.