A LIFE LONG RUNNER
When he lost his eyesight in his mid-twenties, Tom Panek was afraid to run alone. Running with a guide dog was presumed not to be safe, so Tom ran with human guides – yet he felt a loss of independence.
Richard Hunter began losing his eyesight at age 22. Richard competed in the Boston Marathon and Iron Man triathlons with the assistance of human guides. He never considered using a guide dog because running with guide dogs was prohibited.
Pam McGonigle won her first running race in 6th grade and was hooked. Born with visual impairment, she won gold in the 3,000 meters in the 1992 Barcelona Paralympic Games. Yet, Pam struggled to find human guides to train with, and in 2005, she called it quits.
and possibilities explored.
At the 2014 Boston Marathon, Tom, the new CEO of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, and Richard discussed the possibility of a running program for guide dogs. It was something that had never been done.
Meanwhile, in Bend, Oregon, Ruffwear’s product design team had been creating gear for working dogs for years. The team had been talking with guide dog schools about developing a guide dog harness, but the ideas had yet to take shape.
BACK IN NEW YORK
Guiding Eyes for the Blind began getting its running guide program off the ground. The team was training a German Shepherd named Klinger with Ruffwear's Front Range® Harness, which they had modified by adding a handle.
In 2015, Guiding Eyes asked Ruffwear about developing a harness for its Running Guides program. Ruffwear’s design team thought, “If we are going to create a guide dog harness, let’s develop one that works for all guide dog users and any activity.”
The team went to work developing a harness and handle that would meet the everyday needs of guide dogs and guide dog users. The UniFly™ Harness is lightweight, breathable, and like all Ruffwear gear, designed with a dog’s comfort in mind.
THE FIRST GRADUATE
In 2015, Klinger was the first dog to graduate from the Guiding Eyes for the Blind running dog program – and join Richard. Since then, more than a dozen dogs have graduated and there is a waiting list.
REUNITED WITH RUNNING
12 years after quitting running, Pam joined the Running Guides program. The first time she and guide dog Maida ran together, she knew she'd met someone who loves running as much she does.
Tom’s guide dog Gus gave him the independence that he lost 25 years ago. In 2017, they ran a 5-mile race together – something that had not been done before. Tom is planning to run a marathon with a relay of dogs, continuing to reimagine what’s possible.