It’s no secret that the world hasn’t been much of a cheery place lately. It seems like every other headline is plagued with tragedy or discourse. However, we pride ourselves on offering readers a reprieve from all of the nonstop negativity by bringing you the best in good news.
Today’s dose of heartwarming positivity comes to us from a blind runner and his three guide dogs who made history on Sunday by being the first team of its kind to run the New York Half Marathon. If this doesn’t turn your day around, we don’t know what will.
48-year-old Thomas Panek lost his sight in his early 20s, but he never let that keep him from his passion for running marathons.
Thanks to volunteer human guides, Panek has since completed 20 marathons. Though he was extremely grateful for his human guides who’ve helped him along the way, Panek missed feeling independent which is what inspired him to start a training program for running guide dogs.
“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. “It was just a matter of bucking conventional wisdom and saying why not.”
In 2015, Panek established the Running Guides program which specializes in training guide dogs to support runners.
The Running Guides program is part of the nonprofit Guiding Eyes for the Blind and is the first dog training program of its kind.
Panek, alongside his three running guide dogs Wesley, Waffle, and Gus made history on Sunday as the first blind runner to complete the New York Half Marathon with guide dogs.
History has been made! #GoodBoyGus earned his United Airlines NYC Half medal and will now step into retirement….
According to the race website, Panek’s team finished in just shy of two hours and 21 minutes.
Panek says he chose siblings Waffle and Westley along with his full-time guide dog Gus for an important reason.
“The bond is really important. You can’t just pick up the harness and go for a run with these dogs,” Panek told CNN. “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.”
“It’s really a team,” Panek said.
Each dog sets its own pace and wears a special harness along with a set of running boots to protect their paws.
Westley runs an eight-minute mile, while Waffle can do the same distance in six minutes.
Gus ran the final leg of the race and crossed the finish line with Panek.
“It’s a little emotional for me because he’s been there with me the whole time,” Panek said.
Panek hopes his team will inspire others with disabilities to keep striving for the seemingly impossible.
“Running with your dog is wonderful 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,” Panek said.