The United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) provides life-enriching sports opportunities for every individual with visual impairment. Guiding Eyes and the USABA have forged a partnership based on their shared goal of removing boundaries for people with vision loss and challenging accepted notions of independence.
This collaboration is timely; Thomas Panek, Guiding Eyes for the Blind President & CEO, is running the California International Marathon in Sacramento this weekend along with Richard Hunter, the first graduate of the school’s Running Guides Pilot Program. Richard received Klinger, a two-year-old German Shepherd, in July of this year and the team has been successfully training for this event ever since.
The Running Guides Pilot Program is pioneering in concept, training guide dogs who have the highly specialized skill set to safely guide their handlers at higher speeds. In other words, these are exceptional dogs that love to run! The frustration of having to rely on sighted guides to train for a race is greatly reduced when the sighted guide is an energetic German shepherd that can’t wait to get out there.
Panek has crossed the finish lines of three major marathons in the last two years; California, Boston and New York. He shares, “When I lost my eyesight, I was hesitant to even walk slowly down the street by myself. Guiding Eyes dogs give me and many others the ability to travel independently and safely. And now, with the Running Guides Pilot Program, athletes like Richard Hunter will be able to do what they love with the safety and companionship that come from having a guide dog.”
Today, USABA has evolved into a national organization that provides sports opportunities to thousands of children, youth, adults and veterans who are blind and visually impaired. USABA programs serve athletes of all ages and abilities from local grassroots programs to the elite Paralympic level. The USABA and Guiding Eyes both operate under the premise that barriers to independence are malleable. Together, the two organizations can continue to meet the needs of athletes who are blind or visually impaired today and in the future.