November 1958: the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Into the rarefied atmosphere of wealth and tradition comes the most unlikely of horses-a drab white former plow horse named Snowman-and his rider, Harry de Leyer. They were the longest of all longshots – and their win was the stuff of legend. The Eighty-Dollar Champion by Elizabeth Letts tells their extraordinary story.

Harry de Leyer first saw the horse he would name Snowman on a bleak winter afternoon between the slats of a rickety truck bound for the slaughterhouse. He recognized the spark in the eye of the beaten-up horse and bought him for eighty dollars. On Harry’s modest farm on Long Island, the horse thrived. But the recent Dutch immigrant and his growing family needed money, and Harry was always on the lookout for the perfect thoroughbred to train for the show-jumping circuit-so he reluctantly sold Snowman to a farm a few miles down the road.   But Snowman had other ideas about what Harry needed. When he turned up back at Harry’s barn, dragging an old tire and a broken fence board, Harry knew that he had misjudged the horse. And so he set about teaching this shaggy, easygoing horse how to fly.

One show at a time, against extraordinary odds and some of the most expensive thoroughbreds alive, the pair climbed to the very top of the sport of show jumping.   Here is the dramatic and inspiring rise to stardom of an unlikely duo, based on the insight and recollections of “the Flying Dutchman” himself. Their story captured the heart of Cold War–era America-a story of unstoppable hope, inconceivable dreams, and the chance to have it all. Elizabeth Letts’s message is simple: Never give up, even when the obstacles seem sky-high. There is something extraordinary in all of us. (provided by publisher)

breaking awayThere’s lots of bicycling in the news this week – RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) is at the halfway point and the Tour de France will finish on Sunday (can Lance Armstrong pull off his comeback?) Keep the bicycling theme going and check out the movie Breaking Away, one of the best sports movies ever made.

Set in the college town of Bloomington, Indiana, four friends are caught in limbo after finishing high school, not know what they want to do next. The college kids derisively call them “cutters” (for the stone quarry where most of their blue-collar fathers work). Dave escapes into his dream of becoming a bicycle racer for the world champion Italian team by training rigorously and even learning to speak Italian (much to his father’s chagrin). After one dream is shattered, an unexpected opportunity opens when a local team (the “Cutters”, led by Dave) is allowed to compete in the famous Little 500 bicycle race at Indiana University. What follows will have you cheering for what’s possible against impossible odds.

Loosely based on a true story (there really is a Little 500 race at Indiana University) this heartwarming (in the best sense) movie is more than a story about a bicycle race – it’s also about family and home, about loyalty and friendship, about accepting and embracing change, about finding your perfect place in the world. Beautifully acted (Dennis Christopher, Paul Dooley, Daniel Stern, Dennis Quaid, Jackie Earle Haley, Barbara Barrie) this inspiring film will make you laugh, cry and cheer.

Cheerleaders are usually portrayed as air-headed and dumb, the sport is often the butt of jokes and in this age of equal rights, it’s considered anit-feminist to be part of a squad. The truth, of course, is very different.

It wasn’t that long ago (before Title IX in the 70s) that cheerleading was often the only organized sport available to high school and college women. Today, competitive cheerleading (not the silly dance steps performed by squads at professional football and basketball games) is a scholarship sport at hundreds of colleges, with National Championships held each year in April that are shown on ESPN. Like any college sport, it requires rigorous practices, learning specific skills, staying in excellent physical condition and game day situations. It is also plagued by the same problems – illegal drug use, often serious injuries and eating disorders.

Just in time for opening of college football. Cheer! by Kate Torgovnick takes you through a typical season with the squads from Stephen F Austin, Southern University and the University of Memphis. You’ll go behind the scenes, experience the hard times and the fun times and come to love the people of each squad. Well-researched and detailed, Cheer! will give you new insight into – and respect for – the world of cheerleading.