China's newest celebrity athlete just ran more than 1,100 miles from China's Sichuan Province to Lhasa, Tibet, scaling a dozen mountains along the way — on four legs. Xiao Sa, or Little Sa, is a diminutive stray dog who happened upon a group of Chinese cyclists in Sichuan and, one tasty chicken leg later, joined their cycling team for the rest of their 24-day race. (Watch a video below.) The "dog with determination," as Chinese bloggers have dubbed her, now has more than 82,000 followers on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, and a new home. Here is her story:
Where did Xiao Sa come from?
Nobody knows exactly. The small white-and-tan mutt joined the bikers for three days before they decided to make her an official part of the team. At first they thought she was just following them for the kibble, "but I can now see a bond between us from the way she looks at me," says cyclist Xiao Yong, 22. "I think we have definitely moved beyond food."
How arduous was the journey?
Extremely. The cyclists rode 30 to 40 miles a day, up and down mountains as high as 14,700 feet, and sometimes through heavy storms. Xiao Sa kept up, and sometimes led. "She once ran 37 miles in one day, going uphill," Xiao Yong told Central China TV. "We were very impressed by Xiao Sa's persistence, [and] that inspired us all the way till our destination." She would even run back down the road to round up stragglers, adds teammate Lu Bo. "She injected power into us." Some of Xiao Sa's followers in China "took to calling her 'Forrest Gump,'" says Kiri Blakeley at The Stir, to acknowledge her simple-minded commitment. Personally, "I would have gone for 'Lance Armstrong.'"
Did she run the whole way?
No. When the group was about to cruise down a steep hill, much faster than a dog could run, or Xiao Sa was exhausted, Xiao Yong would give her a lift in a makeshift box on the back of his bike. And there were a few other times when the roads simply weren't safe. "Once, a large dog started chasing us along a series of dark tunnels and his barking drew a whole pack of others," he said. "I put Xiao Sa on my bike and started peddling desperately. One of my bags was ripped, but otherwise we got away."
What's next for Xiao Sa?
Once the team got to Lhasa, Xiao Sa was taken to a vet and declared healthy. This week, Xiao Yong took the dog home to Wuhan, the capital of southern Hubei Province. "I think she's taking me as her owner now." Before Xiao Yong gets too comfortable, though, "he might have some competition from another cyclist, Wang Zi," says Neetzan Zimmerman at Gawker. Wang plans to climb Mount Everest, and, he says, "if possible, I would like to take the dog with me, taking her to see a more splendid scene."