Anastasia Pagonis, blind 16-year-old swimmer from Long Island, competes with help from guide dog

LONG ISLAND, New York (WABC) -- After becoming blind, and going through a deep depression, para swimmer Anastasia Pagonis and her guide dog are now on a quest for the Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

Pagonis, 16, of Long Island, started to lose her vision when she was 11 because of Stargardt's disease, a genetic disorder that causes macular degeneration.

At 14, she'd completely lost her vision, and along with it, she'd lost things like her love of swimming, social life and her independence.

Pagonis admits that she was very depressed when she was diagnosed.

She suffered from thoughts of suicide, stopped eating, and even retreated from family and friends.

"I felt worthless and hopeless, and if I was going to be blind, then what was the point of me living," Pagonis said.

Family, friends and doctors helped Pagonis cope with her visual impairment, but at the end of the day, her own will to live her best life helped her most.

"The support from them really helped me, but if you are coming out of a dark place, I think it comes from you. Obviously, all these things help you, but it really comes from you," she said.

After a long search, she found a coach who was willing to teach a blind student. She started swimming and competing regularly as a para swimmer.

In August, she found true companionship, love, and solid connection with a Seeing Eye Dog named Radar.

Radar, a Golden Lab from The Islanders 'Puppy with a Purpose,' was matched with Pagonis after undergoing two years of training to assist the visually impaired.

The para swimmer says she feels lucky to have Radar by her side.

"Radar has been a lifesaver for me. Honestly, I cannot imagine my life without him," she said.

Radar gives Pagonis a sense of freedom to do things independently, something she did not have before.

"He changed my life so much, I never had freedom or independence before him, and now that I have him, I can do anything by myself," she said. I feel like I can conquer the world."

Pagonis, who has a large social following, uses her Instagram platform to inspire others with disabilities.

"My goal with social media is to show people that this is blind. I am not the stereotype of blindness," she said. "I want to show people that yes I'm blind, but I'm still going to wear makeup, I'm still going to dress the way I want to, and I still know trends because I have friends that can teach me and I can be a professional athlete," she said.

----------
* Follow us on YouTube
* More local news
* Send us a news tip
* Download the abc7NY app for breaking news alerts
Copyright © 2020 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.