A little yellow dog just showed up at the starting line of an extreme marathon and ended up running straight into the heart of competitor Dion Leonard.
But it’s become a long-distance affair wrapped in red tape as Leonard, who lives in Scotland, fights to bring home the pup he named Gobi, who lives in China.
They met in March at the 4 Desert Race in China’s Tian Shaun mountain range. Leonard, 41, an extreme marathoner from Australia who’s raced all over the world, noticed the short-haired mutt on day one of the 155-mile trek across mountains and the Gobi Desert.
The starting line was about three miles from the nearest village.
“We don’t know how she got there,” Leonard told InsideEdition.com Thursday by phone from his home in Edinburgh, where he is an executive with William Grant & Sons, distillers of Glenfiddich whisky and Hendrick’s Gin.
The pup took off with the 101 runners, and for the first day, she trotted alongside some Americans. She ran the entire 20-odd miles, never stopping and never turning back, Leonard said.
She spent the night at the camp site.
On day two, she was at the starting line again. This time she stood next to Leonard, looked up at him, and took off when he did. “She stayed with me all day,” even running over a nearly 2,000-foot mountain, he said.
Gobi and Leonard running in China. (4Deserts.com/Omni Cai I)
She slept with him that night in the camp, making little growling noises if anyone came too close to Leonard without her approval.
And that was it, Leonard was a goner. “This dog was becoming very important to me,” he said. She was also becoming the mascot of the race, with organizers and competitors snapping photos and posting them online, and writing about the dog now named Gobi in racing blogs and in emails to friends and families.
But Gobi was definitely Leonard’s dog. “I can’t pinpoint why she chose me,” he said. “For a little dog, she has a big heart. She’s pretty quick. She kept up with me.
“She would run ahead of me and turn around and look at me,” Leonard said, chuckling, as if to say hurry up now.
She missed only two days of the race, when it stretched through the Gobi Desert and temperatures soared above 100 degrees. It was too hot for her, Leonard said.
During that time, she got to ride in an air-conditioned vehicle with event organizers.
Leonard, who described himself as extremely competitive, said he lost time because he had to carry Gobi across several rivers that were too wide for her to swim across.
“I had to literally just grab her and hold her in my arms, as I’m trying to win this race. The other guys are just roaring past me and I’m tip-toeing on the rocks so I don’t drop her,” he said.
He also lost time on the last day of the race because he stopped to help a competitor who was overcome by the heat. “It can be life or death out there,” he said. Heat stroke can lead to death.
So he stayed with the runner until help arrived. He lost his first place standing, but managed to finish the race in second place.
Gobi and Leonard chilling out at the base camp after a long race day. (4Deserts.com/Omni Cai I)
Sitting in the shade at the finish line was Gobi. “It was so good to see her. It had been such a drain on me. She just came running up to me.”
And with the race finished, Leonard was determined to bring Gobi home. All he had to do was figure out how. And tell his wife, whom he hadn’t spoken to during the race because he was so concentrated on the task at hand.
“So I’m about to call her and I’m thinking ‘How am I going to tell her about this dog?’ So I figured I would tell her the good news first – that I finished in second place.”
But his wife didn’t want to hear about that. She had been reading the internet posts about this incredible little dog who had adopted her husband.
“The first thing she said was ‘When are you bringing the dog home?’’’ he said.
Gobi and Leonard at the finish line after Leonard won second place. (4Deserts.com/Omni Cai I)
The dog is still in China. Leonard established a crowdfunding page to pay the costs of getting Gobi approved for travel to the United Kingdom.
He had hoped to raise 5,000 British pounds. Thus far, 11,000 pounds have been donated.
He hired a pet service to handle the bureaucratic red tape in China. There are forms and veterinarian examinations that need to be completed. He hopes everything will be straightened out by Christmas.
For now, Gobi is living with one of the race organizers in the village of Urumqi.
“I can’t wait until she comes,” he said.