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Blind man runs New York half marathon with three guide dogs

Thomas Panek running the New York City Half Marathon with his guide dog Gus Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Thomas Panek and his guide dog Gus running the New York City Half Marathon

Thomas Panek has completed 20 marathons, however, he made history on Sunday at the New York City Half Marathon.

While visually impaired runners usually use human guides, Mr Panek became the first person to complete the race supported by guide dogs.

A trio of Labradors - Westley, Waffle and Gus - each accompanied him for a third of the race.

The team finished in two hours and 21 minutes.

Mr Panek, who lost his sight in his early 20s, told CNN that while he appreciated the support of human volunteers, he missed the feeling of independence.

"It never made sense to me to walk out the door and leave my guide dog behind when I love to run and they love to run," he said. "It was just a matter of bucking conventional wisdom and saying why not.

In 2015, Mr Panek established the Running Guides programme which trains dogs to support runners.

When selecting his canine companions for the New York race, Mr Panek chose siblings Waffle and Westley to join Gus, who is his full-time guide dog.

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Image caption (L-R) Thomas Panek, Waffle, Westley and Gus show off their medals after the race

"The bond is really important. You can't just pick up the harness and go for a run with these dogs," Mr Panek told CNN. "You're training with a team no matter what kind of athlete you are, and you want to spend time together in that training camp."

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Media captionBlind runner Rachel Mentiply explains how she and her sighted partner will run the marathon

Each dogs sets its own pace - Westley runs an eight minute mile, while his sister Waffle can cover the same distance in six minutes - and helps Mr Panek avoid obstacles such as kerbs and cones.

Each dog wears a special harness and set of running boots, to protect their paws.

Gus was chosen to run the final leg of the race and cross the finish line with Mr Panek. He retired from his duties as a guide dog at the end of the race.

"It's a little emotional for me because he's been there with me the whole time," Mr Panek said.

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Image caption Gus, Mr Panek's personal guide dog, entered retirement after the race

Before the race, Mr Panek told Time magazine that guide dogs give visually impaired people the freedom to "do whatever it is a sighted person does, and sometimes, even run a little faster than them".

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