Millions of American runners pound the pavement every day, many running several miles. But few run them like Tina Jinkens. The Eudora, Kansas native is one of the first in the U.S. to receive a guide dog specifically trained for running.
"Sometimes it's hard to find people every day that will run with me,” said the blind runner who just recently retired her last guide dog.
Jinkens always wondered what it would be like to have the freedom to choose whenever and wherever to run. Once she heard about the new, unique program training guide dogs specifically for running, she jumped at the chance to have her own.
"Since she's specifically trained to do that I feel really safe with her,” said Jinkens.
Her new companion is Clara, a two-year-old black lab.
"We work as a team. I tell the dog, like, ‘forward’ at a street intersection. But if a car were to run a light or something then she's trained to back away from it,” she said.
Tina and Clara run three to four miles a day and always keep their route simple.
"I always make sure people know I'm not running a marathon. Dogs don't have that kind of stamina so I wouldn't run a long distance with her,” said Jinkens.
Clara is also trained just like a normal guide dog, only with an emphasis to dodge obstacles and move more quickly. She was trained as part of the new program from the non-profit, Guiding Eyes For The Blind , out of New York state.
"A dog that makes a good running guide is simply a dog that loves to run,” said Tom Panek, president and CEO Of Guiding Eyes For The Blind. “So we select the dogs that enjoy working at a fast pace."
Tina is now thrilled to have not only a running companion but one she can consistently trust with her life one step at a time.
"I just have the freedom to, if I decide I want to go running today I don't have to wait for a person,” she said. “I have trained with her to get ready for the race and I feel more ready than I've ever felt.”
Tina is a graduate of the Children's Center For The Visually Impaired and will be running in the Trolley Run in Kansas City on Sunday.