Paralympic gold medalist takes new role at Overbrook School for the Blind

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (WPVI) -- You may have seen her running around Philadelphia with her guide dog. Pam McGonigle is simply on her way to work at her new job.

She started her education career as a substitute art teacher at Overbrook School for the Blind. Years later, she is their new Director of Development and Communications.

"Working for the organization that launched my career is very meaningful," she said.

McGonigle, 52, is no stranger to success. But she had to climb a mountain to reach it.

"I was born with albinism, which is a lack of pigmentation," she said. "And that lack of pigmentation causes a variety of issues with the eyes."

Although she was visually impaired since birth, her parents had not treated her any differently than her other siblings.

In 6th grade, she began running track and field. That catapulted her into an award-winning career with the Paralympics.

"At the same time, my father, who had terminal cancer, I promised him that I would win him a gold medal in the Barcelona Paralympic games," McGonigle said.

She had focused on the 1500-meter race, which was her best chance to win the top prize. Unfortunately, she only earned the bronze medal.

But she didn't give up.

The 3000-meter race was her last chance to win. And to this day, she cherishes the gold medal she championed for her father.

McGonigle would go on to win many more awards, setting world records and building self-confidence.

Long after her Paralympic career, she would find new life running with her guide dog, Maida.
A German Shepherd with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Maida is only the third dog in history to be trained specifically as a running guide.

"I pinch myself constantly. It's been four years since she and I have been a team," McGonigle said.

Her dog can anticipate obstacles in the road, such as tree roots and stairways. This allows McGonigle to run on all terrains, keeping her passion alive.

A few days per week, she runs five miles to and from work with Maida by her side.

"She attends all meetings. She hangs out in the office," she said.

In her new role, McGonigle hopes to increase fundraising efforts and encourage growth through physical activity within the student body.

"I think there's a lot to be learned through sport," she said. "It helps build that self-esteem and that sense of confidence."

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Pam hopes her new position will be an inspiration for a community that struggles with unemployment nationwide.

To learn more about Overbrook School for the Blind, visit their website.

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