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More Than I Expected

https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1246936, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

When I saw the selections for the Radio Readers Fall read I was so intrigued by the idea of donkey racing that I read the last book first! “Running with Sherman” by Christopher McDougall just sounded like a book I’d enjoy and its 340 pages didn’t disappoint. It’s the true account of one family’s experience in donkey rescue and the adventure that small jack brings to their lives in Pennsylvania’s Amish country.

Readers will be pulling for Sherman from the start as he is removed and recovers from a hoarding situation. When Chris first lays eyes on Sherman he’s confined in a small, muddy pen inside a dark barn. The poor creature needs physical and mental rejuvenation and luckily for him he’s been found by the perfect people for the task. The author calls on friends and neighbors knowledgeable about donkeys and the transformation slowly begins.

Once Sherman’s physical survival is assured, his rescuers begin to address his mental health and need for purpose. They’re told that donkeys “need a job” and companionship as herd animals.

Chris is a runner and hits upon the idea of entering himself and Sherman in the annual race run by burros and their humans on trails through the Rockies near Leadville, Colorado. Thus begins a training regimen that involves Chris’ wife and daughters, friends and other donkeys along for the fun of it. Chris enlists a college age friend of the family who’s been struggling mentally and has decided to take time off from earning his degree. Zach is a former competitive swimmer who misses the endorphins and surging dopamine that intense exercise brings. He’s ready and willing to run with Chris and Sherman. Soon Sherman is showing real promise as a natural born distance runner.

The “more to it than I expected” aspect of the book is learning about so many subjects. The story opened a window into rural life where winters are harsh and neighbors must accept, learn from and support one another to persevere. The Amish community provides practical help and animal husbandry knowledge as Sherman’s caregivers learn their new charge. Donkey owning neighbors steer Chris in the behavioral aspects of caring for the diligent, at times balky creatures who are continuously cautious and not easily persuaded.

Psychological topics including the mindset of animal hoarders, how athletes cope and endurance running along with the fine points of transporting and racing donkeys at high altitude are all in this book. We learn that burros and donkeys are the same critter with the name used generally determined by location. We’re told about the pioneers and stars of the burro racing world and that “wear a skirt and a smile” is a winning approach for some female racers who don’t take themselves too seriously.

The author and his family have a close to the land lifestyle as the story begins and adding Sherman to the mix enriches their corner of the world even more. “Running with Sherman” is a story I’ll remember fondly. When I was a youngster some close neighbors with a big pasture had a pair of burros for a time. Pedro and Josephine were very tame and all of us kids loved petting and fondling their long, expressive ears and hearing them bray. When they produced a foal we were over the moon. Donkeys will always have a tender spot in my heart.

Maybe you have your own donkey story and fond memories? Even if you don't, you'll enjoy reading about Sherman’s journey.

Once again, the book was “Running with Sherman” by Chris McDougall and I’m Linda Allen in Amarillo for the HPPR 2023 Fall Read.

Fall Read 2023: Wisdom of the Natural World 2023 Fall ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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