When he signed up for a grueling 7-day marathon through the Gobi Desert, ultra-runner Dion Leonard thought the only thing he would end up taking back home with him would be a medal. But he got so much more – a cute, furry friend that ran alongside him for 125 kilometers of the 250-kilometer race.
Leonard remembers seeing Gobi the stray dog hanging around the runners’ camp on the first day of the Gobi March. When the race started, the tiny dog, which turned out to be just 18 months old, decided to join them and managed to keep up the pace despite the harsh terrain. On the second day, Gobi started running with Dion and the two of them became inseparable. “Once we had begun the stage Gobi seemed to like the bright yellow color of my gaiters and proceeded to run next to me,” the 41-year-old British runner told 4 Deserts. “When she came into camp she followed me straight into my tent, laid down next to me and that was that – a bond had been developed.”
Over the space of a week, Gobi ran alongside Leonard for four of the six stages of the desert marathon. “She would run ahead of me and wait for me 20 or 30 meters down the road and then I’d have to catch up with her,” the runner said. “She’s such a small dog but has a massive heart.” At one point he had to carry her in his arms through a river, as it was to wide for her to cross, and even though it meant losing precious seconds that could cost him the race, he realized he just had to take her with him.
“There were times during the race when, you know I’m there to race and compete and I’m trying to do my best to win the race but we had to cross some really large rivers where I would have to carry her over them. I didn’t actually have the time to do it but I realized then that I had to take her with me and the bond was made,” Leonard told Good Morning Scotland.
Nobody knew where Gobi had come from, as the nearest village to the race start line was three to five miles away, and even though she could have had rabies or other diseases, no one really cared. “The dog was more famous than anyone in the race. She was in everyone’s blogs and emails and was all over the race photos making her the star of the race,” Dion says. “Gobi really became the race’s mascot – she embodied the same fighting spirit as the competitors.”
Gobi wan’t allowed to run the fourth and fifth stages of the marathon across the Black Gobi desert, because temperatures reached 52 degrees Celsius. She had to ride in a support car, but she got to run alongside her new best friend through the final stage, and was with him when he crossed the finish line second out of 101 runners. Leonard won the silver medal, but his happiness was shadowed by the news that he couldn’t take Gobi back home to Scotland.
Adopting Gobi turned out to be a long, expensive process, but Dion Leonard wasn’t about to give up on the four-legged companion who had ran with him for 125 km. Upon his return to Scotland, the ultra-runner quickly set up a crowdfunding page entitled “Bring Gobi Home“. His goal was £5,000 needed for for medical care, quarantine and transport, and it was met in just 24 hours, thanks to almost 300 backers who donated more than £8,600. At the time of this writing, the campaigned had raised over £9,600.
Gobi will have to be taken from Urumqi – where she is being taken care of by the 4 Deserts race organizer – to Beijing where she will have to be quarantined for several months before she’s allowed to travel. Once in the UK, she will be quarantined again for medical checks, before finally meeting her new family. Dion said the whole process is expected to take about six months, but all he cares about is that he will be reunited with his loyal friend.
This heartwarming story reminds me of Arthur, the stray dog who also befriended a team of extreme runners during last year’s 430-mile Adventure Racing World Championship. The Swedish athletes who befriended him also decided to adopt him.
Photos: Bring Gobi Home/Crowdfunder