Book review by Laura Clark for the Spring 2018 edition of our Trail Times Newsletter.
Not all ultrarunners are humans. Meet Gobi, a sturdy, sandy-colored mutt with Chihuahua-style ears, a flagship tail and the focused stare of a runner determined to put in the miles however difficult they might prove. Incredibly, this resolute dog materialized somewhere in the middle of China’s Gobi Desert, scanned the competitors in a 155-mile stage-ultra and selected Australian runner Dion Leonard as his companion for the next 80-odd miles of adventure.
At first, I thought that as an enterprising stray he simply showed up for a free handout. Perhaps, but that cannot be the entire story. Running 80 miles is not exactly an easy meal ticket and most likely would barely replace the incurred calorie deficit. Moreover, competitors were required to pack their own food, so any sharing would become a considered sacrifice. And even if he thrived on the adventure component, hanging out with the tent crew would have been a far easier solution. My theory is that as a would-be therapy dog, Gobi scanned the available runners and instinctively selected Dion Leonard, a distrustful, habitual loner with a troubled past.
Leonard, a practiced competitor, was in the race for the win, a last-chance opportunity to prove to the world that he could still be competitive. Early-on he makes it clear that, “I’m not here for fun.” For him, fun and competing were mutually exclusive. Enter Gobi, who paced Leonard to a second-place finish and a new perspective on life. Inspired by Gobi’s therapy dog appeal, Leonard began interacting with his fellow athletes and even risked his standings to carry the canine across tough stretches.
Even though Gobi had no idea what a therapy dog was, she fit the profile. As Leonard states, “The race across the Gobi Desert was different…The experience had changed my life. So it was only right that in return I should do everything I could to help change Gobi’s.” And so begins the second part of their journey: Leonard’s struggle to bring Gobi home to Edinburgh with him. The journey would make an incredible movie plot, but it is totally factual, involving fundraising, immigration laws, media sites, kidnapping and the amazing warmth of a group of Chinese friends who devoted days to searching for the missing dog who had captured the hearts of the planet.
There is an adult version of Finding Gobi, a kids version, and, you guessed it; Twentieth Century Fox has now bought the movie rights. So now it is up to you. Confronted by the chicken and egg dilemma, is it best to read the book prior to seeing the movie, or view the film before reading the details in the book? As for me, I have read the book and can’t wait to see the movie!