Blind teen swimmer and guide dog make 'perfect pair' in Paralympics quest

New York resident Anastasia Pagonis cheered for the New York Islanders long before she had any idea the professional hockey team would raise a guide dog for her.But when she was 14 years old — around the time a little Labrador retriever named Radar became the first “Puppy with a Purpose” for the Isles — Pagonis rapidly lost her vision over the course of two months.“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?’”

The answer: competitive swimming. The mid-distance freestyler had just taken up the sport about six months before losing her sight and dove back in.

“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.”