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I consider myself an open-minded person. I love traveling down out-of-the-way roads, immersing myself in strange cultures, and meeting new people. This week, I even tried eggplant for the first time in my life.

But let’s say you came to me a few months ago predicting that I’d soon be whipping my mother-in-law’s ass up and down her front yard—at my wife’s suggestion—while a TV crew films the entire graphic display. It’s impossible that I would have believed you, and I might have said something like this.

“How dare you? That’s incredibly offensive. And, hey! Is that peyote you’re smoking? And are you drinking cough syrup? You totally need to get some help, man!”

Little did I know.

Of course, up until recently, I never imagined that I’d be preparing for a pack burro race in Colorado. Or that I might win a national championship in egg tossing. Or that several days later, something even crazier would happen—the media would start calling.

The first person to contact me was WRAL sports reporter Jason Jennings. I was excited, but nervous. As a writer, I’m used to controlling the stories I tell. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to relinquish that power to a TV reporter.

Plus, my last appearance on the CBS affiliate was a disaster. It was a 1998 edition of Football Friday, a weekly high school football wrap-up show. That night, the Broughton Capitals stomped my Leesville Pride. I threw four interceptions, and a WRAL cameraman was there to capture all of my pathetic bloopers. The deep voice of longtime WRAL sports anchor Tom Suiter still haunts my dreams.

“Jon Page … drops back … gonna’ be … INTERCEPTED!”

Fortunately, reporters are much more friendly when you’re a national champion—even if it’s for egg tossing. Jason was incredibly nice, and the feature he filed on Raleigh’s newly crowned egg tossing champions was equally hilarious and professional. (Although, I’m pretty sure that the champions’ wives stole the show.)

Watch the video here.

I also heard from a media relations assistant for the Hagerstown Suns, the minor league baseball team that hosts the National Egg Toss Championship. This was especially funny considering that I was calling Suns officials months ago to interview them for my blog. Back then, I had to wait a few weeks before anyone would return my call. But after winning their contest, they were calling me. Even better, the media relations assistant kept calling me, “Sir.”

Yesterday, we were featured in the print and online edition of the News & Observer in an excellent story by staff writer Mark Hensch. The N&O’s sister paper, The Myrtle Beach Sun News, even picked up the story! I haven’t even been to Myrtle Beach in years, but I now feel like I owe the good people there a visit.

And this morning, NBC 17 viewers in the Raleigh-Durham area ate their corn flakes and sipped their coffee to the site of me and morning anchor Penn Holderness running with donkeys.

Of all the interviews I did in the past two weeks, this one scared me the most. Mainly because it was my first training session with the donkeys, and also because of something Penn said to me just before the interview.

“You know we’re kind of going to make fun of you, right?”

Sure, I get that. I make fun of myself on this blog all the time. And we were, after all, standing in a pasture on my mother-in-law’s farm, getting ready to film a segment in which I’d run a leashed donkey in circles to prepare for the Idaho Springs Pack Burro Race in Colorado. This wasn’t exactly Dateline material, and I’m not exactly Lance Armstrong. Of course Penn was going to poke a little fun at me. I just didn’t know how far he might take his ridicule.

When I run in the pack burro race in Colorado, I’ll be renting a trained donkey with racing experience. The miniature Sicilian donkeys I began training with at Noah’s Landing, however, had never even been harnessed before last Friday morning, and I wasn’t even capable of catching them. Carie’s mom had to lasso the first one just so we could get him harnessed. Fortunately, Penn and his cameraman arrived a few minutes late. At least they wouldn’t experience the joy of filming my ass wrangling incompetence.

Not that it mattered. I had absolutely no control over my ass. I could smack him on the back with the lead, but he sprinted wildly, often in the direction of a mud pit or a pile of waste. My troubles were confounded as I wore a wired microphone and Penn interviewed me as I zigzagged across the pasture. Imagine trying to have a worthwhile conversation with someone while an animal jerks you around like a rag doll. Oh, and the local news is there. If actual pack burro racing is anything like what I tried that morning, I’m in deep trouble.

Somehow, I made it through the interview without diving head first into a pile of donkey chips. A few minutes later, Penn ran with his own donkey. Later, he even interviewed me standing still. I was starting to think that maybe he’d go easy on me. That maybe he was starting to get what I was all about. That this isn’t just one big joke.

After the interview, I was feeling upbeat. But as I started walking to my car, I overheard Penn whispering to his cameraman.

“Let’s call it Donkey Man,” he said.

“Penn! I totally heard that!”

He paused.

“It’s just the file name Jon. Just the file name!”

In the end, I think Penn produced a great feature.

Watch the video here.

After all my nervous anticipation, I’m proud to say that the worst thing Penn said is that I spent my Fourth of July training on my mother-in-law’s donkey farm.

Ha! I’ll have you know that even Donkey Man watched fireworks.

Many thanks to Dave Telep, National Recruiting Director for Scout.com, whose tweets of our egg-tossing prowess caught the eyes of the local media. And many thanks to the assorted members of the local media who took time away from reporting actual news to tell my story.

I’ve made some ridiculous requests since starting this project.

A few months ago, I begged and pleaded with tower running legend Thomas Dold to critique my stair climbing technique. Before the National Egg Toss Championship, I even sought advice from national champion coaches Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, and Nick Saban.

Those requests, however, were boring compared to the e-mail I recently sent to a Colorado man named Red Tail. I believe the subject line said it all:

Seeking an ass for the Idaho Springs race

It’s not often one gets to write an e-mail like that with a serious face. That was one reason why I couldn’t resist adding pack burro racing to my list of future events.

The only problem, of course, was securing a partner. After a quick Google search, buying a donkey seemed like far too much of a hassle. A decent burro might run me as much as $500, and that’s just the purchase price. It doesn’t include maintenance, food, or emotional support. Plus, what good would it do me to buy a donkey in North Carolina when I’d have to transport it to Colorado on July 18th for the pack burro race in Idaho Springs? Sure, I could just buy one in Colorado, but then I’d have to worry about buying and selling a donkey in the span of a weekend when I’m supposed to be on vacation. Renting a donkey, I decided, made much more sense.

Surprisingly, there aren’t many folks offering pleasure-trotting ass rentals for the weekend. At least, if they are, they’re not doing a great job of advertising. We finally stumbled upon a Facebook page in which Red Tail offered to loan first-time racers a burro. Apparently, he’s one of the few Colorado mountain men to harness the power of social media.

Red Tail (whose real name is Bill Lee, owner of the Laughing Valley Ranch) was quick to respond to my e-mail. A burro rental would cost me just $30. It might be a good idea for me to show up early, he said, so I could undergo Burro Racing 101. But I was ready to start training on the spot, and Carie thought she had the perfect idea. My mother-in-law runs Noah’s Landing, a children’s zoo between Raleigh and Fayetteville, and she happens to have a herd of miniature Sicilian donkeys.

“Why don’t you try running with my mom’s donkeys,” Carie said.

“Uh, I really doubt that Red Tail would approve running with a miniature donkey,” I said. “They don’t run with miniature donkeys on the trail, OK.”

I had read two stories about pack burro racing online and watched one video on YouTube. I was an expert. Practicing for a serious sport like pack burro racing with a toy donkey was a horrible idea. In my mind, I pictured a giant horse running alongside me.

“Well, maybe you should at least ask Red Tail,” she said.

I had been planning on calling Red Tail the next day, so I finally agreed to ask him about the mini donkeys. But I was certain that Red Tail would laugh at me. And when you’re getting ready to call a guy named Red Tail for the first time, the last think you want is him laughing at you. I decided to phrase the question carefully.

“So, my mother-in-law has some miniature donkeys. My wife thinks it would be a good idea for me to train with them, but I’m convinced that it would be counter productive.”

Little to my surprise, he laughed. But not for long.

“Maybe not totally counter productive,” he said. “They’re probably getting fed pretty well and are a little overweight, but we have people who run minis in the shorter races and have done quite well.”

For the next 15 minutes, Red Tail schooled me on the basics of pack burro racing. He told me what to watch for in my donkey. He informed me that pulling a burro won’t get you or the burro anywhere. And he even explained that running directly behind the burro is actually smart, even if it makes you a prime target for kicking and defecating.

I was excited.

Unfortunately, I had no business starting my training. A few weeks before, I sustained a rather uncomfortable strain in my left calf muscle. Instead of giving it the proper time to heal, I started running again after a week. Naturally, that only made it worse. After repeating this cycle three times, I finally vowed to rest for at least three weeks before hitting the pavement again. Then I restrained the muscle one evening while lunging for an errant throw during egg toss practice. Yes, that’s right. Even egg tossing isn’t immune to injury.

I’m happy to report that I have successfully resumed my training. Today, I went for a 2-mile run. There’s no way for me to simulate running in a higher altitude, but I’d like to think that our 100-degree heat counts for something. And, of course, I have the added benefit of training with donkeys. Last Friday, I took one for a test run at Noah’s Landing and the results were somewhat encouraging.

I’d like to say that Red Tail would be proud, but I’m afraid that I have much more to learn.

Check back later this week for more details of my first practice run with the donkeys.

Thanks to months of practice and a little bit of luck, I recently became a national champion. Sadly, however, the physique of a champion egg thrower is no match for the body of a mainstream national champion.

So it’s time to get my ass in gear. Literally.

Actually, I won’t be able to do that until July 18th, when I’ll be competing in a pack burro race in Idaho Springs, Colorado. I’ll be running for miles on a rugged course alongside a donkey weighed down with 30 pounds of mining equipment.

I realize this may sound crazy, but pack burro racing is a serious sport commemorating Colorado’s 19th-century miners. These prospectors used burros to carry their mining tools and supplies through the Rocky Mountains in search of precious metals. According to legend, two miners once found gold in the same location and raced back to town in order to stake a claim to the discovery. Due to the heavy loads the donkeys carried (aka, assloads), the miners couldn’t ride their donkeys. Instead, they had to walk and run beside their burros, which explains why riding your donkey is strictly prohibited in this sport.

Today, the Western Pack Burro Ass-ociation (WPBA) celebrates “60 years of hauling ass” by sponsoring six races, including the World Championship Pack Burro Race, a 29-miler that kicks off the triple crown of burro racing. Lucky for me, the weekend that Carie and I will happen to be in town, there’s a tamer, 5-mile event targeted at novice burro racers like me.

Believe it or not, long before I had ever heard of burro racing, we were already planning a trip to Colorado. Carie works for a non-profit organization headquartered in Boulder, where she had previously scheduled some meetings. Lured by fresh mountain air, a few nights of backpacking, and the chance to check out Colorado’s first microbrewery, I jumped at the chance to tag along and make a long weekend out of her business trip. The race actually fell into my lap when one of Carie’s colleagues, Catherine (aka, Pumpkin) found the WPBA’s website.

While I’m somewhat nervous about running five miles with a donkey (I’ve never been the biggest fan of hoof stock), it’s about time for another physically demanding challenge. I’ve been training hard for the past two months, but that training has required little exercise. Hollerin’, obviously, required none. Egg tossing wasn’t much better.

A long ass race is just what I need.

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