Guide dog enables talented teen to reach for a Paralympic title.

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GUIDE dog enables talented teen to reach for a Paralympic title.

A blind teenager in New York is working with her exceptionally talented guide dog to make their way to the Paralympics in Tokyo in 2021.

Anastasia Pagonis and her guide dog, Radar, who is the first “Puppy with a Purpose” in her area, will work tirelessly together to train for the upcoming event.

Pagonis rapidly lost her sight over a period of two months when she was just 14 years old. She said, “Being a teenage girl is hard, so having that on top of it was just such a struggle for me,” she told TODAY. “It took me about eight months to kind of regroup myself, and then I got it in my head, ‘OK, I’m blind. Now what am I going to do with my life?’”

Well, it wasn’t long before she decided that her life goal was to be a competitive swimmer. As a mid-distance freestylers she had only taken up the sport approximately six-months before losing her vision.

However, the set back just pushed her into the sport further. Pagonis said, “It’s my happy place. It’s the place where I feel like I don’t have a disability and I feel like that’s the only place where I feel free. When I dive in the water, it’s just me in the pool and I feel such a connection with it.”

She has already racked up a number of impressive wins including two gold medals at the World Paralympic Swimming Series in Australia.

Radar was paired with Pagonis just prior to the coronavirus pandemic which allowed them to train together for a number of hours each morning at her home before being officially paired by the non-profit Guide Dog Foundation.

“Having Radar has just given me so much independence and I’m literally in love with him. He’s the best thing ever,” she said. “We’re a match made in heaven.”

Radar now travels with Pagonis to hr major sporting events, including a stint to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Centre in Colorado where she trained for the potential to compete in the 2021 Paralympics in Tokyo.

Despite being a reasonably new guide dog, Radar soon familiarised himself with her daily routine.

“Pretty much if I’m coming from my dorm room, I’ll say, ‘Radar: Forward. Find the elevator,’ and he’ll go down a bunch of hallways and make a few turns and he’ll find the elevator,” she said. “If I didn’t have Radar, I would have to glide against the wall and bump into a bunch of things and it would honestly be pretty impossible for me to find the elevator without asking for help because I have no eyes. So he’s pretty much like my eyes.”

She added, “Everyone thinks that he’s the best. I feel so blessed that I was able to come out here with some of the top elite athletes in the country. I feel like everyone in the Paralympics is such an amazing fighter and we’re all just awesome.”

Ann Rina, senior director of community relations for the New York Islanders, said that she’s thrilled that Radar partnered with an athlete of such incredible talent and that they work so well together. The reliability of a good support dog means that Pagonis can focus more intensely on her training and goals.

“I could tell it was the right match when they met,” she told American news “TODAY”. “We wish them great luck over in Tokyo. Not only is Radar representing the U.S. in Tokyo, but he’s representing the Islanders, too.”

John Miller, president and CEO of Guide Dog Foundation said, “Our entire organization will be rooting for Anastasia,” he said. “All of our clients are special, and it motivates us here every day to see the differences in their lives once they receive their dogs, and the impact the dog has had on them and their families.”

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Published by
Chris Kidd

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