Finding Gobi is the story of a marathon runner who found himself an unexpected companion dogging him during his seven-day race through the Gobi desert.
The Gobi Desert Ultra-marathon was set to be the biggest race of Dion Leonard’s running career. He’d trained extensively for the week-long race through harsh terrain; he had his eyes on the prize.
When he saw a little beige-coloured, terrier-type dog at the runner’s camp on the first day, he assumed it belonged to one of the race volunteers and didn’t pay it much attention. It came as a surprise when he saw her again at the starting line-up the next morning. Looking around for her owner, he couldn’t see anyone – and she’d firmly attached herself to him. She looked up at him with big, brown pleading eyes but all Dion saw was a trip hazard.
As the race began, she followed Dion for a little while before Dion lost her. "I started to speed off and I'm thinking this dog won't last the whole day but she was still with me at the end. From then on she didn't leave my side," he recalls.
Love and loyalty
Up mountain terrain, through the desert, across streams – she followed Dion through it all. This tiny little stray, who would later be named Gobi in honour of the vast desert they had just crossed together, tailed Leonard for nearly 125km.
Perhaps she ran to the catchy tune ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)’, or maybe it was the pop classic ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ that keep her going. Or maybe her motivation was simply the love and loyalty she felt towards her new best friend. As Dion says: “I’ll never know what made her choose me but I’m so glad she did.” She’d found the human she wanted to go home and, like a dog with a bone, she wasn’t giving up.
For Dion, the moment he knew he felt the same was day three of the race. As he approached a 40-metre wide river, with Gobi not far behind, he started to wade through.
However, it wasn’t long before he heard barking and whining from Gobi, who was trapped on the other side – the water was too high for her to swim through.“I was a quarter way across the river when I finally did what I had never done before in a race. I turned around,” he says.
After carrying her across the river, it was clear the man and dog were a team now. Scampering ahead, full of energy; Gobi was the perfect race companion for Dion, especially when the exhaustion hit and it was difficult to keep motivated. “Just by being there, Gobi made me want to keep going.”
On day five, the race organisers stepped in and decided it was too dangerous for the little dog to run these massive distances in the intense heat. Instead, they drove her from the start point to finish point on the two final days of the race. But her dedication to Dion never wavered. “She was extremely loyal. The volunteers said she would wait patiently for hours for me to finish.”
A special bond
Ultimately, Leonard took second place in the race. At the final finish line, event organisers produced a matching medal for Gobi, too. Although Dion did not cross the finish line first, he felt he had won something even greater – a new outlook on life and a new friend that he planned on bringing home to Scotland as soon as arrangements were made.
However, before he could take her home, Gobi went missing in the sprawling Chinese city where she was being kept before her flight. Dion, with the help of strangers, set out to track her down, and eventually managed to reunite forever with Gobi.
Gobi and Dion 3They say the course of true love never does run smooth and this tale certainly follows that. However, it definitely has a happy ending. Gobi now lives a blissful life with Dion and his family in Edinburgh. She loves playing with Dion’s cat, Lara, and going for walks in the countryside.
Now, Dion can’t imagine his life without Gobi. “We have a special bond. I’m not a hugely spiritual person, I don’t really believe in all that, but I do know that something brought us together. She’s taught me so much and helped me become a better person.”