When Dion Leonard, an Australian extreme marathon runner, signed up for the 2016 4 Deserts Race, he had no idea that he would be crossing the finish line with a stray puppy pal. The race is a grueling 4-day event, spanning 150 miles through the Gobi Desert in China. It was day two, when a small female pup appeared at the starting line with eyes on Leonard. “This was the first contact I had with her and as I ran off the line I noticed her by my side,” Leonard tells The Independent. “I didn’t speak much to her that day thinking she wouldn’t stay with me, but at the finish line she followed me into the tent and we slept next to each other.” Not only did he share his tent, Leonard made sure to keep her hydrated and well-fed during their long excursion. They were in this thing together, he decided.
He named her, appropriately, Gobi. In total, the dog ran 77 miles alongside Leonard. At times, Leonard even gave her a hand when the route showed obstacles. “I carried her across rivers and over sluice gates she could not cross on her own,” Leonard says on his Crowdfunder page. At the end of the race, it was apparent that the two had grown to care for each other greatly. Leonard began thinking of how he could get Gobi back to his current home in Scotland. Travel, along with medical checkups and clearing for UK entry, would be expensive: $6,560 USD. With the help of a Crowdfunder page and hashtag #BringGobiHome, Leonard told the story about his new canine running partner. People everywhere were inspired and donations raced in. The crowdfunding campaign already hit over 350% of its goal—that's over three and a half times more than the modest initial ask of £5,000 (about $6,521 USD). Leonard has plans to spend any leftover money on a dog rescue facility or animal shelter charity.
A friend of Leonard's living in China is taking care of Gobi for now, but hopefully by Christmas, the adoption process will be finalized and Gobi will spend her first holiday in Scotland. Leonard admitted to BBC: “That would be the best Christmas present ever.”
All images via BringGobiHome.