For the first time in the history of the New York half marathon, dogs helped a blind runner run the entire distance.
Thomas Panek is 48 years old and last Sunday he became the first person to run the half marathon in New York with the help of three guide dogs. Thomas is a blind runner and president of the Guiding Eyes for the Blind guide dog school. Thomas continued to run after losing his vision at age 20 and, thanks to the help of volunteers, ran twenty marathons. But the man lacked a sense of independence, which he gained only by running with dogs.
On March 17, at a distance of 21.1 kilometers, Thomas was assisted by three specially trained dogs: Westley, Weifel and Gus.
Running on the street is not an easy task for dogs. On the way there are curbs, traffic lights, stairs, distracting extraneous sounds and smells. In 2015, the Guiding Eyes for the Blind introduced the Running Guide for blind people with dogs.
Twenty-four dogs have already completed training and can lead a running person, twelve more are being trained right now. At the half marathon, trainers advised Thomas to run away with Westley and Weifel, the most active dogs in the school. Then they were joined by Gus, Thomas's long-standing guide. For several months, the man trained with four-legged "guides" in turn, got used to their behavior and looked for a common language with them. Training did not stop even in January, when in New York there was freezing temperature and it was snowing.
On the day of the race, each of the three dogs took over part of the race. Dogs, like all runners, were put on special shoes for long-distance running. Gus helped Thomas overcome the last five kilometers and finish with a result of 2 hours 21 minutes. Thomas went to the race in a T-shirt with the symbols of Guiding Eyes for the Blind. The runner hopes that by his example he will help other blind people to start running and not be afraid to participate in large races.
Blind runners finish annually in the largest races in the world. In training and racing, runners help them. In Russia, special projects are being created for blind runners, such as the “Marathon in the Dark”.