Racing with donkeys - doesn't everyone? Running With Sherman is a delightful nonfiction story!
Running with Sherman, Christopher McDougall
Published 2019, 334 pages
Anyone who reads this story will fall in love with Sherman. He’s such a resilient little donkey. Chris and his wife live in Amish country in Pennsylvania. They rescue Sherman from an animal hoarder who kept Sherman in a shed, on old hay, with barely enough room to turn around. The first thing they needed to contend with when they got Sherman home was his “hooves curved like the nails of a Hindu holy man” – it was painful for him to walk.
As Sherman begins his recovery, Chris’ goofy goat, Lawrence, who likes to playfully head-butt all the other animals (as goats do!), approached Sherman and Chris worriedly watched to see what would happen between the two:
“Lawrence sniffed his whole body. Whatever story Lawrence’s nose picked up must have troubled him, because he then did something that, in an instant made up for every flowerbed he had ever ruined, every driver he had ever terrified, every torn fence I’ve had to replace. Lawrence lay down beside the sick donkey, curled his legs beneath him, and settled in for the night.”
As Sherman begins to feel better, Chris gets the idea to enter Sherman in the burro World Championship in Colorado where owners race alongside their donkeys up and down the mountain at an altitude of 12,000 feet. They spend months training for the event with numerous setbacks. Along the way Chris brings in Flower, a huge donkey almost twice the size of Sherman, and sweet Matilda to help Sherman gain confidence. The three donkeys become inseparable and if any one of them gets left behind during a run, their braying and bellowing will hurt your ears!
During their training, Chris discovered “the feel of dirt beneath the donkeys’ hooves must have put jumper cables on some dormant DNA from their ancestral past on the African savannah and shocked it back to life, because as soon as they climbed that creek bank, they went wild.”
The author’s story doesn’t stick just with Sherman and the other donkeys. He covers quite a bit of other territory too.
Chris turned to many people for help along the way with training, transportation, and advice. He includes the background on these people, including divorce, suicide attempts, serious illnesses, and more. I certainly hope he got permission from all these people to include these intimate details of their lives in his story! While it certainly let you get to know these people, it got pretty wordy and took time away from the story of the donkeys.
Also, there are quite a few references to the Amish community and people which I especially found interesting.
“The Amish are six times more active than the average American and half as likely to suffer from cancer or diabetes. They don’t smoke, drink, fight, or mess with drugs. They don’t get fat (their obesity rate is a nearly nonexistent 4 percent versus 40% for the rest of us) or fool with guns. They have far superior late-life mobility and overall health. Their suicide rate is 70% lower than ours and there has been exactly one Amish murder in all of American history.”
The author also talks about how animals and activity (like running/racing) have been proven to de-stress people (which I think we all know already). He tells the story of how an inmate at a State Hospital for the Criminally Insane found an injured sparrow. Nursing it back to health calmed him down. As an experiment that Hospital then brought in dogs, goats, sheep, and rabbits for the inmates. Now, instead of fights breaking out and unhappy inmates, things quieted down, people got along, and they cared for the animals. There are a few side tangents like this in the book – I liked some more than others.
A couple of things I especially enjoyed were the photos that were included of Sherman, Flower, and Matilda, and the relationship between Sherman and Zeke, a young man dealing with depression who helps train Sherman and develops a special friendship with the donkey that helps to heal them both. Has anyone out there been racing with a donkey?
photo via unsplash.com