Thomas Panek is the first blind runner to complete the half marathon with guide dogs

Thomas Panek and his running guide dogs Westley, Waffle and Gus will make history on Sunday in the 2019 New York City Half Marathon.

Panek, the president and CEO of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, will be the first blind runner to complete the half marathon with guide dogs.

His trio of Labrador Retrievers -- who will take turns pacing him along the 13.1 mile course -- will be the first four-legged athletes in the race.

"It's really a team," Panek said.

 Panek had no intention to give up the sport, even after losing his eyesight in his early 20s.

Thanks to volunteer human guides, he has since completed 20 marathons. Still, Panek missed the feeling of independence, which ultimately inspired him to start a formal training program for running guide dogs.

In 2015, Panek established the first-of-its-kind "Running Guides" program at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a certified nonprofit school in Westchester County, New York that has trained guide dogs for the visually impaired for decades.

Twenty-four dogs have completed the program and another 12 are halfway to graduation. Once trained, Guiding Eyes matches each dog with an applicant and helps train the new team free of charge.

Thomas Panek completes the 2018 BAA 5K in Boston, led by his guide dog Gus.

posted Sunday March 17th