By Rich McKay
(Reuters) – A blind runner, assisted by a relay team of three guide dogs, made history on Sunday by completing the 2019 United Airlines New York City Half Marathon without any human help.
Thomas Panek, 48, ran along with three Labrador retrievers, Waffles, Westley and Gus, according to the Guiding Eyes For The Blind’s website, a charity that trains dogs for the visually impaired.
Panek became the first blind runner to complete the race led by dogs instead of other runners, according to the charity and also the website of the running club, New York Runners.
He finished the 13.1-mile race just under two-and-a-half hours, according to the club.
About 20,000 runners competed in the St. Patrick’s Day race which passed through New York’s Times Square.
Each dog ran between three-to-five miles and Panek’s pace averaged 10.5 minutes per mile, the club reported.
Panek lost his sight in his early 20s, CNN News and other media reported. He had previously finished about 20 races with the help of human guides.
“When I lost my sight I was too scared to run,” he told CBS News, which added that after he adjusted to being blind, he ran again, but only with a fellow runner.
“Although many people run with running clubs, at the end of the day you’re running your own race,” he told the network. “And when you’re tied to another person, it’s no longer your race. The independence isn’t there.
After the race, Guiding Eyes posted a photo on twitter of Panek smiling broadly while hugging his dog Gus, with both wearing marathon medals around their necks.
Panek, a lifelong runner, is the president and chief executive officer of the New York-based charity.
(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta)