Shaggy dog story gives guests at accountancy group’s annual dinner some food for thought

May 10, 2024

Ultra-athlete Dion Leonard, who runs distances of 250-plus miles in some of the world’s toughest conditions, has told West of England business leaders they too can overcome huge challenges – if they are determined.

Dion, pictured, was guest speaker at accountancy body ICAEW West of England’s annual dinner in Bristol.  

He entertained the audience with his life story and his feats of endurance – a tale that took an unexpected turn following his encounter with a stray dog as he took part in a gruelling race across the Gobi Desert – an event which led to a global best-selling book.

From a drunken bet with a friend that he could run a half-marathon – a wager he admitted he couldn’t remember making when reminded of it the following day – to finishing sixth in what is regarded as the World’s toughest race, the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon, Sydney, Australia-born Dion recounted how he never shrunk from a challenge.

“I didn’t have a great childhood,” he told the event. “In fact, it was terrible and I drifted around. When I finished that first half-marathon it was the first time in my life I’d ever achieved anything.

“It was a stupid little bet and a stupid little race but it made me feel something. I’d started from zero and I never looked back after that.”

But it was the tale of the little stray dog who appear out of the blue in the Gobi desert that taught him an even bigger life lesson.

Having seen it begging for food on the first evening of the race, it then reappeared by his feet the following morning in the starting line – and started chewing the protective covering of his running shoes.

The pair became inseparable and ran the following two days of the race together, even crossing a swollen river together. As the temperatures soared, Dion gave the dog – later given the name Gobi – to a race official to look after. Gobi was waiting for him at the finishing line.

Their unlikely friendship made headlines around the world – even more so when Gobi disappeared before Dion could transport her back from China to Edinburgh, where he was living at the time.

Fortunately, the tale had a happy ending. Gobi is now a star in her own right and Dion’s best-selling book Finding Gobi has sold 2.5m copies worldwide.

“Life’s a journey. Enjoy the ride,” Dion told the dinner at Ashton Gate.

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