Tom Kowalski says he has been given four, great gifts in his life. The first three are self-explanatory: his wife and two children.
The fourth? A dog named Dynamo.
"After having Dynamo for a year, a piece of my soul was filled," Kowalski says.
Kowalski lost his sight, practically overnight, in 2007. He was 55-years-old. "It's called non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy, which is basically the optic nerves just start bleeding out," Kowalski said.
Kowalski, San Ramon businessman, says the loss of his sight was a devastating blow for him. The always-active father with a child in college and another in high school feared he would be a burden to his family rather than the provider he had always been.
"It was a real struggle. I had given my wife the day I was going to commit suicide about two months after it happened," Kowalski said.
With the help of family, friends, and medical professionals, though, Kowalski began to turn the corner and come out of his depression. Still, Kowalski said, he never truly accepted his new limitations.
"I just wasn't willing to accept it," Kowalski said.
Then his wife, without his knowledge, applied for a guide dog through the San Raphael-based Guide Dogs For The Blind. The application was approved and Kowalski was soon introduced to a yellow Lab named Dynamo.
After being trained to work together by GDB, Kowalski said the newly found freedom and confidence he experienced was revelatory.
Kowalski, who had always been physically active throughout his adult life, could now dive into those pursuits once again. Kowalski and Dynamo regularly log 50 miles a week walking up and down San Ramon's Iron Horse Trail.
It was such a blessing, Kowalski said, he wanted to do something in return. When he learned that a GDB group was having trouble paying the rent at their meeting space in Danville, Kowalski came up with a plan.
While training for a half marathon, Kowalski vowed to walk 200 miles in a single month and asked for donations if he met his goal.
Kowalski's plan was to raise one year's rent for the group. He ended up raising three.
Kowalski says even that is not enough to repay GDB for what they have done for him. But he will keep trying.
"Journey's not over but it's been quite a nine years and... I wouldn't change anything. I wouldn't change a thing."