- Anastasia Pagonis went blind when she was 14.
- Around that time, Radar became the first Puppy with Purpose” for the Isles.
- Now, Anastasia and Radar are teamed up, with the smart pup helping Anastasia with her Paralympics training.
It must have been fate that brought Anastasia Pagonis and Labrador retriever Radar together.
When Anastasia was 14 years old, she lost her vision in just a matter of two months, and around that time, Radar became the first “Puppy with Purpose” for the Isles.
“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?’”
And she got her answer: swimming.
Before losing her sight, Anastasia had taken up competitive swimming for six months. She decided to dive back in despite what happened.
“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… I feel such a connection with it,” she said.
Now 16, the mid-distance freestyler has shown impressive victories, winning two gold medals at the World Para Swimming World Series in Australia pre-COVID time.
When she was partnered with Radar, things even got better for Anastasia. The pandemic has brought the two closer as they trained together for about 10 days.
On August 19, Anastasia and Radar officially teamed up.
“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.”
The two even recently traveled to the US Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Radar has greatly helped Anastasia with going around. After just a week, he learned routes to guide Anastasia around the campus.
“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. “…So he’s pretty much like my eyes.”
Other athletes have also become fond of Radar. Players and fans would even stand in long lines to meet him at games. And Radar was enjoying that time, too. He loved meeting fans and was particularly fond of the team mascot, Sparky the Dragon.
John Miller, president and CEO of Guide Dog Foundation and its sister organization, America’s VetDogs, was also among Anastasia and Radar’s fans. He even called them a “perfect pair.”
“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.”