Wow, have I got a gift for you. ‘Tis the season of giving, right, and new beginnings? How about a donkey story that’ll warm the cockles of your heart and imbue you with the spirit of sharing?
Meet Sherman, “the donkey with the heart of a hero.” Running with Sherman is author Christopher McDougall’s tale of rescuing a donkey and then training Sherman and himself to run in the world-famous pack burro race in Fairplay, Colorado. It wasn’t all fun and games, but it was rewarding to the max.
Once Sherman has been properly rescued, rehabilitated, and bonded with Lawrence the goat, it’s time to train owner and burro. Friend Tanya suggests that life would be more fruitful if Sherman and his handlers had a specific job in mind. Thus, the dream is born — come summer, the family will head to Colorado and compete in the burro races.
Living in the heart of Pennsylvania Amish country, they find no shortage of help and advice, including properly-garbed Amish runners. “Neither rain nor snow nor heat nor gloom of night” keeps them from running the roads, creeks, hills, and an old quarry maze, right on the tail of their beloved beasts. At least, that’s where they’re supposed to be — attached to a rope and behind the animal.
Donkeys don’t like to be led by their humans, and they tend to fall into a natural order with their buddies. They do get easily spooked — think puddles or heavy human breathing — but the patient runner reaps his reward as the team speeds, slows, digs in its heels, and speeds again in a quest to reach the barn and, in Sherman’s case, the security of Lawrence.
I admit, I have zero experience with donkeys, but I have to trust McDougall and his team of handlers when he admits that once they learned to think like a burro, their ultimate goal became reachable.
Yes, they made it to Colorado, in the company of a pair of volunteer drivers with the kindest hearts and the most adventurous spirits this side of the Rockies. I’ll leave the rest for you to read, but here are some things I learned along the way.
Yes, yes, all about donkeys, but also a load of information on the physiological effects of withdrawing from fiercely competitive sports; the benefit of “neuro-diverse” children bonding with working animals; how to deal with altitude sickness in a race at 10,000 to12,000 feet; and how to make changes on the fly.
Even if you’re not an animal person or you’d rather read a gripping work of fiction, try this. And you might just want to take a peek into The Lager Queen of Minnesota. For character development and the ups and downs of the craft beer movement — really, you know you want to learn about the beer-making process, which is fascinating — there’s nothing finer.