It was a beautiful fall morning in Washington, D.C. for the 35,000 runners that gathered to run the Army Ten-Miler, but one runner didn’t see the sun shining, or the path he was running.
Thomas Panek went blind in his early 20s, and while some people might give up on extracurricular activities, Thomas wanted to prove he can still enjoy the things he loves to do.
“I didn’t think I could do it,” said Thomas. “Some people, they think that people who are blind, or wounded warriors, can’t get out there, but I’ll tell you the first thing that this does is it motivates you. It gets you out there; it gets you back on your feet.”
Thomas, who works at the National Industries for the Blind, helps find jobs for the blind, and is a supplier to Boeing. It’s this relationship with Boeing that led him to finding his race partner, Nick Abramczyk. Nick, a Boeing employee, offered to guide Thomas through the race. They trained using an elastic tether, and code words for direction.
“You know, when you come up to take a turn, it’s not just a right turn. Maybe it’s a 90-degree turn, 70-degree turn,” said Nick. “It’s ‘copy 3-2-1 turn 90 right, copy 3-2-1 turn 90 left,’” added Thomas.
While the process sounds difficult, Nick said Thomas is very easy to work with. “You don’t even realize you’re running with somebody who has a visual impairment,” said Nick.
The pair has become good friends, and with a couple more races coming up this year they have no intention of slowing down. In fact, they hope to qualify to run in the 2014 Boston Marathon.