Guide Dog Raised By Hockey Team Helps His Handler Swim Professionally

Radar the Labrador Retriever started his life as a part of a hockey team. The New York Islanders helped socialize him so he could become the best guide dog ever. He quickly got used to crowds after meeting with the fans during hockey games. These experiences helped him finish his training at the Guide Dog Foundation with ease.

The service dog has since been paired with Anastasia Pagonis, a professional swimmer. The 16-year-old is currently training to compete in the Paralympics, and Radar helps her achieve those goals.

Service Dog at Hockey Game
Image: @anastasia_k_p/Instagram

Never Give Up

Initially, Pagonis was a soccer player. But at 11 years old, she began to lose some of her eyesight because of a genetic disease. She could see fine for the most part, but she had a blind spot that often caused her to get hurt during soccer games. So, she looked for a new sport that would be better suited for her vision loss. That’s when she switched to swimming.

“When I got in the water, I fell in love with it,” said Pagonis. “It was a place where I felt free, where I didn’t need any help getting around, and I didn’t need anything.”

Service Dog at PoolService Dog at Pool
Image: @anastasia_k_p/Instagram

Unfortunately, at around 14 years old, Pagonis lost her vision completely. It was caused by autoimmune retinopathy, another disease on top of her genetic one. It happened so suddenly, which sent Pagonis into a dark place at first. She struggled with figuring out how to continue her dream of swimming professionally.

When she was ready to start swimming again, she struggled to find a coach that would train a blind girl. Nobody had faith in her until Marc Danin of Islander Aquatics agreed to help. He even used special goggles to block his own eyesight, which helped him understand what swimming was like for Pagonis.

Service Dog Kissing HandlerService Dog Kissing Handler
Image: @anastasia_k_p/Instagram

Dogs Make Life Better

Pagonis soon got the hang of swimming again, but life was still difficult. She often had to rely on others to get around, but she desperately wanted to be independent. So, Radar soon came into the picture. Once he had finished his time with the New York Islanders and the Guide Dog Foundation, he was ready to assist Pagonis on her day-to-day activities.

Radar now goes everywhere with his human, especially to the pool. He patiently waits for Pagonis while she’s swimming, and he helps her get around as soon as she’s back on land. The sweet dog has helped her find herself again.

Service Dog Kisses Human at PoolService Dog Kisses Human at Pool
Image: @anastasia_k_p/Instagram

“Honestly, I couldn’t be like my own person and so now that I have him, I feel so independent,” said Pagonis. “I’m gonna conquer the world with him.”

After only two weeks together, the pair traveled to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. Radar already behaved as if he’d known Pagonis his whole life. At this training facility, Pagonis will train to compete in the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo, which have recently been rescheduled to 2021. With Radar by her side, there’s nothing that she can’t do.

Pagonis hopes her journey will help show others that anything is possible if you set your mind to it. You can follow her adventures with Radar on her Instagram page.

Service Dog ParalympicsService Dog Paralympics
Image: @anastasia_k_p/Instagram

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