Vision-impaired runner ready for his 20th marathon

Thomas Panek, 48, had to stop running in his 20s when a degenerative eye disease took away his sight.

"I got too scared to run. So I stopped running and couldn't go forward anymore with it," Panek said. "I tried but when I did I'd get hurt. Run into something or somebody and my love of running went with my vision."

His passion came back a decade ago. Gus, a specially trained guide dog for runners, is usually by his side.

"A guide dog is a lot like driving a car. You pick up that harness handle and he takes you to places that I could never imagine," Panek said. "But the running guides program is like getting on the highway or the race track."

Thomas is president of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a New York nonprofit that has been helping those with vision loss since 1954. Gus was trained through one of its special programs and has actually been Panek's eyes for a few running events.

But for Sunday's New York City Marathon, that job will be handled by Scott Jurek, a veteran ultramarathon runner. He met Panek through the Massachusetts Association for the Blind while prepping for the 2015 Boston Marathon.

"I think giving back in this way—seeing for somebody else who can't see and doing that with something that I love to do, such as running, it's like the perfect combination," Jurek said.

This is Panek's 20th marathon and third in NYC. Next year, the plan is for Jurek to hand the tether over to Gus and a few other running guides during stretches of the five-borough trek.

"Set forth your sights on something impossible, like a marathon for someone who's blind," Panek said. "Take it one step at a time, you'll get there. You'll get to the finish line just like I did."