"Running with Sherman"

Christopher McDougall has written a pleasant memoir about a rescue donkey and a dedicated runner. This initially lighthearted story progresses into a heartwarming and serious look at the important connection between humans and animals.

The story begins when Chris and his wife Mika adopt the badly neglected and ailing donkey they name Sherman from a hoarder who lives near their farm in Pennsylvania’s Amish country. Sherman’s muscles are withered “his body was sagging and soft, his trust was severely damaged, if not altogether lost.”

Chris hires a local veterinary technician, Tanya, to nurse the animal back to health. Tanya insists: “You need to give this animal a purpose. You need to find him a job.” For McDougall, that purpose has to involve movement because movement is “big medicine; it’s the signal to every cell in our bodies that no matter what kind of damage we’ve suffered, we’re ready to rebuild and move away from death and back toward life.”

McDougall decides their mutual “job” will be entering and training Sherman and himself for the annual World Championship Leadville Burro Race in Colorado. Despite several injuries and setbacks, they arrive in Leadville in 2016 ready to race.

McDougall includes several informative sub-themes in this account of the two years he and Sherman train for the big contest. One chapter addresses animal therapy with prison inmates. He reports that the bond that develops between prisoners and animals leads to a considerable decrease in the recidivism rate of the inmates who participate in the equine program.

Another chapter relates the story of Zeke, a neighbor boy on the autism spectrum who helps Chris and Tanya care for Sherman. As Zeke and Sherman develop a mutually beneficial relationship, Zeke’s unpredictable behaviors diminish and many of Sherman’s quirky characteristics are reduced. McDougall makes the point that their trusting relationship brings physical and mental healing to both of them.

While runners and animal lovers will find special inspiration in this story about the ways humans and animals connect, the narrative is a reminder to all readers that to truly thrive we need to value our ties with the flora and fauna that surround us. “Running with Sherman” holds that humans are healthier in mind and body when conscious of the bonds with other forms of life.

Christopher McDougall covered wars in Rwanda and Angola as a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press before writing his best-selling books “Born to Run” and “Natural Born Heroes.” He has had a long-standing fascination with the subject of human potential. “Running with Sherman” was released at the Washington Missouri Public Library in October 12, 2019 when the author personally discussed and signed his latest book. Alfred A. Knopf is the publisher of this 334-page book, which contains many photographs.