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.”