Texas runner trains with cheetah

Originally Published: April 1, 2010
By Joe Farris | Special to Page 2

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Last summer Jesse Hays a local track standout at Grant High School learned an important lesson from legendary track star Ian Lynch during running camp. It was Lynch's simple approach: in order to become the fastest you have to train with the fastest.

"It was animal week on one of those nature channels, and they kept talking about how the Cheetah is the fastest animal on the planet, and that's when the idea struck," said Hays. "I asked my dad if he thought there was any way I could train with one, and he just sort of looked at me weird."

What happened next was straight out of the pages of fiction. Once Jesse's father realized his son wasn't joking he started to call around until he found Linda Painter, founder of "Linda's Pride" a local shelter for exotic cats.

"My whole goal is to change people's perception of how these incredible animals can socialize with humans, so when Jesse's dad called me I saw it as a gift," said a proud Painter.

Before long, Jesse was paired up with his new training partner Cymba, a 6-year-old mild mannered female cheetah capable of clocking over 30 mph.

"Cymba is the perfect match for Jesse because they both have such playful spirits and an innate need to got fast," said Painter. "To see them out there running together is beautiful, like a dream."

So how does Hays keep up with the world's fastest animal?

"Well she (Cymba) has four legs, but I've got my Nike Air Max running shoes, so I guess you could say it evens out," joked Hays. "But seriously, we usually just chase each other around. You'd be surprised how fast you can run when you're being chased by a wild animal."

So who will Hays train with next?

"I'd love to run with Symmonds," said Hays, referring to American 800M record holder Nick Symmonds. "Hopefully Cymba can help me reach the next level."

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