A True Champion

By Hal Walter

In my book, what really sets the greatest athletes apart from the really good ones is what they do off the field of play with the skills they developed through sports.

Recently, when I was asked to introduce my good friend Tom Sobal to the Leadville-Lake County Sports Hall of Fame, I began to research his athletic accomplishments in order to prepare a short speech. The thing most striking to me was how Tom’s community efforts were just as impressive as his achievements in running, pack-burro racing and snowshoeing.

Many years ago I wrote in Rocky Mountain Sports magazine that like many other explorers before him, Tom Sobal rolled into Leadville over Mosquito Pass. He pitched his tent in the highest valley in the Arkansas River drainage and he began prospecting.

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Hal Walter – Packing it in

This story is an excerpt from Hal Walter’s forthcoming book, “Wild Burro Tales.” The book includes pen-and-ink sketches by Westcliffe artist Lorie Merfeld-Batson, and should be available in May through local booksellers and amazon.com. Check out www.hardscrabbletimes.com for news about the book’s release.

Early day prospectors combed the West looking to strike it rich. I would venture many also were searching for something other than monetary reward — intangible things like freedom, independence, and a close bond with the land. Matching strides with these adventurers were trusty pack burros carrying their gear and food, and providing invaluable companionship.

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Hal Walter – The Burro Boy

Harrison Walter on Ace the burro

Long before I learned my son Harrison has autism, or what the word “hippotherapy” means, I had this idea he should ride our burros. For me this was a way to incorporate fatherhood into my lifestyle.

For three decades I have trained burros for pack-burro racing, including six world championships, as well as for packing and riding. It seemed only natural I would want to share that with my son, and it would also help provide a vehicle to the backcountry.

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