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GDB grad Renae Goettel pictured with Guide Dog UltimaBy Jim Price

At 23, Renae Goettel has already overcome more obstacles than most people encounter in a lifetime, but she isn't letting "a little thing like blindness" stand in the way of her dreams.

"If I had to live my life over, I wouldn't change a thing," she said. "As difficult and frustrating as blindness can be sometimes, it's kind of how I got where I am. Without the challenges, I don't think my attitude about life would be the same. I really like my life now, and I like who I am." She also likes her new partner, Ultima, a mellow little (just 52 pounds) black Lab Guide Dog.

Born with a brain tumor and retinitis pigmentosa, Renae was mainstreamed in public schools in the Seattle Area. At 10, she was diagnosed with a rare disease, senior lokens, that affects the kidneys. After suffering kidney failure she was put on dialysis but continued in public schools until the eighth grade, when she transferred to the Washington State School for the Blind in Vancouver.

"My parents were initially against my going to the School for the Blind because of my health concerns, but I knew there were things they just couldn't teach me, such as Braille and mobility." She received dialysis treatments in the evenings until she was able to have a kidney transplanted from her mother.

In the summer between her junior and senior years, Renae decided to go to Guide Dogs for the Blind's Oregon campus. She was paired with Lucy, a lively yellow Lab that was her partner for the next six years.

Renae graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, with a degree in communications and sociology. "I was the first blind person to graduate at the school. It was great. My family was there and Lucy walked across the stage with me."

Today, Renae works in the Public Relations Department for the San Antonio Spurs basketball team. She enjoys life with Ultima. "She gives me safety and a lot of independence. And, she's a great ice breaker. People are much more likely to talk to someone with a dog. I love having her around."