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Blind Runner And His Trio Of Guide Dogs Make History In NYC Half Marathon


Most good dogs get treats, pats, snuggles. Yesterday three very good dogs in New York got medals. That was for completing the New York City Half Marathon.

THOMAS PANEK: (Whistling). Hey, Westley. Come here, buddy.


That's Thomas Panek. He got a medal, too. On Sunday he became the first legally blind runner to complete a half marathon led entirely by guide dogs.

PANEK: Good boy, Westley, good boy. Hey, Waffle. Hey, sweetie. How are you guys?

KELLY: The dogs guided him in shifts of a few miles each. They are all Labradors, and their names, Westley, Waffle and Gus.

PANEK: They're an extension of my being. So running with a dog for me is not only a whole lot of fun, but I feel very safe when I'm running with them.

CHANG: Panek is 49 years old. He ran cross-country in high school. In his 20s, a genetic disorder left him legally blind. And running while blind, obviously, can be dangerous.

PANEK: There was a long time where I was too scared to run. I was just afraid to get out there. And I had run in the Chicago Marathon. And about midcourse, I ran into a stake that was in the ground, didn't see it. And I realized it probably isn't safe for me to continue running anymore.

KELLY: A decade later he started running with fellow humans as his guides.

PANEK: You tether to a human guide with a shoelace or a piece of cloth. And then they give you verbal cues throughout the race.

CHANG: He ran over 20 marathons that way. But he liked the freedom he felt moving around the world with a guide dog.

PANEK: Running with a guide dog, it's sort of like driving on the highway. You're just doing the same things that you do when you drive on a side street. Except now you're doing it much faster.

KELLY: In his day job as the president of a guide dog training school called Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Panek started a program to get more dogs in on the marathon action. And this weekend's race, the New York City Half Marathon, was a first for him and the dogs.

PANEK: This will be quite a unique medal to hang on the wall today. Matter of fact, if you take a second, maybe you can hang it with me. Do you mind? I'm going to hang it right about now.


PANEK: What do you say, Westley? I think we earned that one together, buddy.

CHANG: There are probably more races with dogs in Panek's future. But today everyone is getting a hard-earned rest day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.