When barefoot running guru Christopher McDougall takes in a neglected donkey, his aim is to get Sherman back to reasonable health. But Sherman is ill-tempered, obstinate and uncooperative - and it's clear his poor treatment has made him deeply fearful of humans. Christopher knows that donkeys need a purpose - they are working, pack animals - and so when he learns of the sport of Burro Racing or running with donkeys, he sets out to give Sherman something worth living for.
With the aid of Christopher's menagerie on his farm in rural Pennsylvania, his wife Mika and their friends and neighbours including the local Amish population, Sherman begins to build trust in Christopher. To give him a purpose, they start to run together. But what Sherman gains in confidence and meaning is something we all need: a connection with nature, the outdoors, with movement. And as Christopher learns, the side benefits of exercise and animal contact are surprising, helping with mental and physical health in unexpected ways.
In this tenderhearted memoir, McDougall (Born to Run) tells of his adoption and rehabilitation of Sherman, an ailing rescue donkey. Neglected by an animal hoarder near McDougall's farm in Pennsylvania's Amish country, Sherman is nursed back to health by Tanya, a local veterinary technician: "You need to give this animal a purpose. You need to find him a job," Tanya tells McDougall. So McDougall, an accomplished runner, sets his sights on the annual World Championship Leadville Burro Race in Colorado, an eight-decade-long tradition that includes an uphill run half the height of Mt. Everest. McDougall is a charming, enthusiastic storyteller as he describes how, with less than a year to train, he enlists Tanya; his wife, Mika; and Zeke, a troubled Penn State student who draws strength and purpose from training Sherman. The team, which also includes donkeys Flower and Matilda, wends its way through wooded mazes, creeks, and other obstacles in preparation for the high-altitude race. As the event draws closer, several setbacks challenge the team, including Tanya's horse-training accident, Zeke's broken foot, and McDougall's shattered finger. Despite these setbacks, they arrive in Leadville in 2016 ready to race, and complete the 15-mile "short course," with Sherman finishing 29th out of 52. Runners and animal lovers alike can find inspiration in this story of the ways in which humans and animals connect.