Guiding Eyes for the Blind President & CEO Thomas Panek to Run Half Marathon; Guide Dog Gus to Anchor Three-Dog Relay and Officially Retire at Finish Line
Safety, Health and Happiness of Each Guide Dog are Top Priorities
Press Release – YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, NY, Feb. 7, 2019 — For the first time, a blind runner will participate in the 2019 NYC Half guided by a relay of running guide dogs instead of human guides. The dogs are trained by Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a nonprofit organization that has been training service dogs for people with vision loss for the past 65 years.
The nonprofit’s president and CEO, Thomas Panek, will run in the New York Road Runners event on March 17, 2019 to raise awareness and funds to provide athletes who are blind with a service dog capable of guiding while running. Panek, an accomplished distance runner who is blind, will be partnered with a relay of three Labrador Retrievers who will pace him one at a time on the 13.1-mile race course. A team of veterinarians and volunteers stationed along the course will provide vet check-ups and ensure the team’s hydration, health and safety. Three yellow labs, Lynx, Waffle and Yukon, and one black lab, Westley, are logging in miles training for the upcoming race. Gus, a yellow lab and the first running guide dog to complete a sanctioned New York Road Runners and Boston Athletic Association Event as a running guide, will pace Panek for the final 5K across the finish line. Gus will officially retire as Panek’s personal guide dog and running partner and trade in his Ruffwear UniFly™ Guide Dog Harness for a medal.
The running guide dogs are graduates of Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s Running Guides Program, which teaches the dogs to avoid obstacles and navigate a route at a comfortable pace, giving their blind athletes the freedom to run safely. Gus, Waffle, Lynx, Westley and Yukon were selected out of 170 dogs in training at Guiding Eyes for the Blind for their desire to run, and ability to stay focused while guiding Panek.
“I am so thankful for the Guiding Eyes’ Running Guides program, which helps people who are blind and visually impaired like me achieve independence and overall physical fitness by providing them with a running guide dog,” Panek said. “Special thanks to Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO, and John Donnelly, Vice Chairman, of JP Morgan Chase & Co. for leading the way with their personal generous philanthropy that helped to support the training and lifetime vet care of two of the running guide dogs that will be given at no cost to blind athletes upon completion of the race.”
“Serving the needs of our students is our top priority,” said John Donnelly, Vice Chairman and Senior Adviser to CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Chairman of Guiding Eyes for the Blind. “Many of these students have expressed a desire to run outside on their own, something that I personally love to do and in which I see a great deal of importance. I am optimistic that Tom’s adventure in this half marathon will further our goal of accommodating our students who are runners.”
Since its founding in 1954, Guiding Eyes has bred, raised and trained more than 7,000 guide dogs and matched them with people with vision loss, supporting the partnership for life. Guiding Eyes provides guide dogs, plus training and lifetime support, to blind and visually impaired students at no cost to them. This $50,000 cost that it takes to prepare our students and dogs to become a Guiding Eyes team is supported entirely by donations. For more information on Guiding Eyes, visit https://www.guidingeyes.org.
About Guiding Eyes for the Blind
Guiding Eyes for the Blind is dedicated to creating and supporting life-changing connections between people and dogs. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides superbly bred and trained dogs to people who are blind or visually impaired. Our dogs are known for their exceptional temperaments and success at helping people gain independence and to expand their horizons of opportunity.
About the United Airlines NYC Half
Founded in 1958, New York Road Runners has grown from a local running club to the world’s premier community running organization, whose mission is to help and inspire people through running. The United Airlines NYC Half is NYRR’s signature half-marathon, and the opening event of the NYRR Five-Borough Series. The race features more than 25,000 runners, including a talented American and international professional athlete field, competitive, recreational, and charity runners, 2,200 volunteers and thousands of spectators. The event offers the quintessential New York experience—a 13.1-mile tour of the Big Apple like no other—from Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, across the Manhattan Bridge, along the East River waterfront, through Times Square, to a finish in Central Park. United Airlines is the title sponsor of the United Airlines NYC Half and an NYRR foundation partner. To learn more, visit unitedairlinesnychalf.nyrr.org.