Anastasia Pagonis always loved sports growing up. She played soccer and a variety of other sports. Yet at the age of 11, she fell ill to Stargardt’s disease which is a genetic disorder that causes the slow degeneration of some cells. Her eyesight started to diminish but she battled on. At the age of 13, she took up swimming, and despite her challenges, she found a new love. Yet at 14 years old she lost her eyesight completely. She was devastated and contemplated never swimming again, one thing changed her mind.
At 14 years of age, life is already tough. You are becoming an adult and facing emotional, physical, and social challenges that you never encountered before. It is a difficult age for anyone but if it is the same age that you also completely lost your eyesight then it is a challenge that most people would struggle to deal with. Anastasia Pagonis suffered greatly when she lost her eyesight. She became depressed and didn’t see any solution on the horizon. Her eyesight would never return, she would never have a ‘normal’ life, and things would never be the same again.
She had fallen in love with swimming right before she lost her eyesight completely and once it was gone she couldn’t bring herself to get back in the pool. One day her mother told her that there was a dog named Radar that she should meet, that he may be able to help her.
Radar was training as a guide dog with a professional hockey team. He had experience in a sporting environment and was incredibly energetic for a guide dog. When he was growing up the Guide Dog Foundation feared that he might be too energetic to be a guide dog but they decided he just needed an equally energetic owner. He got that at the hockey team but the Foundation only hoped they could find him a long-term owner with the same spirit.
They found it in Pagonis. When Pagonis met with Radar they instantly had a connection. He ran over and started to lick her face. The pair trained together for a couple of weeks and became inseparable. Pagonis says that Radar gave her back a feeling of independence in her life. She believed that she could live on her own terms again and be the driver of her own life. The support of Radar completely changed her outlook.
Pagonis started swimming again and with the support of Radar, she trained harder than ever. She qualified for the US Paralympic team and now at the age of 16 has her sights on gold. The event was postponed due to coronavirus but is scheduled to take place in 2021. If the event happens Pagonis believes she can make a serious splash.
Pagonis recently broke the record for the S11 500 yard freestyle. S11 indicated the level of disability of competitors. For swimming of visually impaired, it can be S11, S12, and S13. S11 is the most serious with competitors being completely or almost completely blind. Pagonis absolutely demolished the previous record of 6:37.37 by coming in at 5:52.45. She also recently broke the 200-meter record while in training but this was unofficial. She plans to make it official at the next event.
Pagonis says that she likely wouldn’t have achieved any of these things without the help of Radar. She has amassed a huge following on Instagram and now is an inspiration to so many people. While she was once afraid of not being able to have a normal life she has now fully embraced the life she has.