Best of America

Best Animal Instinct

The Fall

Danelle Ballengee opened the truck’s door, and Taz jumped out, wagging his tail. Today they were going to run a trail into Utah’s rugged back country. While she stretched, he nuzzled her legs and watched her intently — a sign he wanted to get moving.

It was Taz’s eyes that did it. She’d found him in a shelter, a puppy so unruly she named him after the Tasmanian Devil in the Warner Bros. cartoon. He’d since grown into a 70-pound mutt who was her constant companion, bouncing at her heels on her training runs.

Danelle checked her watch. She and Taz could easily make a loop and return by lunch. She’d eaten a light breakfast and would be ready for a shower and a meal back at her place in Moab at the end of her ten-mile run.

After limbering up, she patted Taz’s brown coat and started jogging. It was winter — December 2006 — and they were alone.

Danelle pushed her five-foot-four, 120-pound frame and soon broke into a sweat. At 35, she remained a world-class endurance athlete who’d run in over 500 long-distance competitions through deserts and mountains around the world. Today’s training route was a mere two-hour workout in the fresh air, even if the air was turning colder.

Up ahead, Taz disappeared, but Danelle didn’t worry as she scrambled along a remote rocky spur and up a second trail to the top of a 60-foot ridge of deep-colored red rock. Near the summit, her foot hit a patch of black ice.

She scraped over solid stone as she slipped toward a precipice. Her hands grabbed for a hold and found none. She was falling. Then she slammed feet first onto a narrow rock ledge and collapsed.

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