Thomas Panek and his team of three guide dogs made history at the New York City Half Marathon last Sunday.
According to the BBC, it was the first time that a visually impaired runner completed a marathon without a human guide. Panek explained that the dogs allow him to feel more independent because he doesn’t need another person walking (or running) him through life.
Training a guide dog takes time and dedication, especially because they must learn a variety of commands and procedures. On top of the basic schooling, the dogs must go through training with their potential owners so that their movements are tailored to the person. A bond between the guide dog and the person is key to a successful relationship, so a frequent and rigorous training is required. Especially if you are to run a marathon, you don’t want your guide dog running away or getting distracted from their job of keeping you safe.
Usually, visually impaired runners have human guides during a marathon, but Panek didn’t want to conform to the norm. Along with his full-time guide dog, Gus, Panek chose siblings Waffle and Westley to help him run the marathon.
Each dog chooses their pace differently, so it’s important that the runner selects a compatible pup: Westley runs an eight-minute mile, while Waffle runs the same distance in six minutes. Throughout the race, the dogs helped Panek avoid obstacles and keep on track. The team finished the race in two hours and 21 minutes.
Panek knew he wasn’t the only runner who would like the independence to complete a marathon without another person’s help, so in 2015, he founded the Running Guides programme. Just like any athletic team, participants and their guide dogs will train together in a camp before the marathon, ensuring they will have a successful run. The dogs even have their own set of running boots and a special harness, so you know they’re ready to do some cardio with you.
#GoodBoyGus earned his #UnitedNYCHalf medal and will now step into retirement. Congratulations Thomas and the entire Running Guides team!— Guiding Eyes (@GuidingEyes) March 17, 2019
Help fund the #GuidingEyes Running Guides Program and all our services that bring #GuideDogs to people in need: https://t.co/pG1OTq4gyw pic.twitter.com/npPJimQDRB
The marathon ended on an emotional note, as Gus crossed the finish line with Panek and retired from his guide dog days. Of his 20 marathons in his life, this one was sure to be a special one. With dogs that helped him stay safe and run a little bit faster, Panek and his trio of Labradors crossed the finish line as champions.