It’s an improbable underdog story that belongs alongside “Rocky” and “Rudy.” It’s the story of an 18-year-old Terrebonne girl, a horse she got for free on Craigslist and their victory in the most prestigious endurance horse race in the world.
It’s the story of Sanoma Blakeley and the race that inspired a book.
“The Tevis Cup is the most famous endurance race in the world. It’s 100 miles across the Sierras,” Sanoma said.
One race. One victory. One life-changing moment in time.
Sanoma was riding horses before she could walk.
“I definitely was a crazy horse girl before I even knew what that was,” Sanoma said.
“There’s pictures of me with my little feet where they couldn’t even, you know… just basically sat on the horse’s back.”
Growing up in Terrebonne, horses weren’t just a way of life for Sanoma. Horses were life.
“They were like our best friends and our playmates. We would just jump on them bareback, sit on them backwards, crawl underneath them, take them swimming at the in the pond. I always had that connection with the animals,” she said.
By the time Sanoma was seven years old, she was entering endurance horse races — 50 to 100 miles.
By 12, she was competing at The Western States Trail Ride — commonly called the Tevis Cup. A 100-mile race that starts in Tahoe, takes racers up and over the Sierra Nevada mountain range and ends 100 miles later in Auburn, California.
“You have to be 12 years old to enter. And so when I was 12, I did the Tevis Cup for the first time. And that was it was an adventure. It was quite the race,” Sanoma said.
To be competitive, you have to be a great rider. But you also have to have a great horse.
Enter Goober — a dark Arabian horse with so much baggage and so many issues that his owner decided to give him away. As a 2-year-old, Goober was placed on Craigslist for free.
“So much personality. He’s got personality for three horses bottled up into one. So he’s a character,” Sanoma said.
Sanoma and her family jumped at the opportunity. They took Goober in, cared for him, rehabbed him, trained him and then finally began to race him.
“He’s done just about every mischievous thing a horse can do,” Sanoma said. “He opens the gates. Unties everybody. In the winter, he’ll be out there ripping horse’s blankets. In the summer, pulling fly masks off everybody. And he’s a character, but he is a good racehorse. He’s got a lot of heart. “
In 2019, with a handful of Tevis Cup races under her belt, most of which she and Goober had failed to finish, Sanoma once again entered her freebie horse and herself into the race.
As they lined up against riders and horses costing thousands of dollars from across the country and globe, no one paid much attention to the girl from Terrebonne and the horse from Craigslist .
“I think everybody kind of underestimated me and Goober. They’re like, ‘Hey, where do you come from?’” Sanoma said.
Ninety-four miles into the race, that would all change. The underdog duo from Oregon caught the leaders. Goober was ready for more.
“Passed the group that was in the lead. And then the last six miles, I was racing neck-to-neck with a rider from Florida,” Sanoma said.
With one mile left, Sanoma and Goober had passed all but one racer — three-time Tevis Cup champion Jeremy Reynolds.
The sprint to the finish was on.
“Goober, he definitely he gave everything. He gave me his heart,” Sanoma said.
After a grueling 100 miles, 19,000 feet of elevation gain. and over 14 hours in the saddle, Sanoma and Goober sprinted to the finish. They crossed the finish line one horse length ahead of Reynolds for the win.
Sanoma, at age 18, became the youngest woman ever to be a Tevis Cup champion.
“It was something that… it was unreal for so long that I always had to pinch myself like, ‘Wow, I actually won Tevis. I can’t believe it,’” Sanoma said.
Four years later, Sanoma is releasing a book about her improbable victory.
“I think writing the book was more of an endurance event than actually writing that 100 miles,” Sanoma said.
The book, “Chasing Dreams: The True Story of the youngest female Tevis Cup Champion,” was picked up by a publisher and released in July.
“It feels unreal. It’s something I … even though I knew I was going to eventually be an author or a published author, it was something that every time there would be a bump on the road, I was like, ‘You know what? Maybe I should just scrap this whole project. I’ll just read it in 20 years when I want to relive my early memories,’” Sanoma said. “And so to have stuck through that, I think I’m more proud of just the process of publishing the journey it took to be published than actually physically holding my book.”
One race. One victory. And now two dreams realized.
“I hope it inspires people that if some things aren’t just handed to you, but you really have to work for it, But also that, you know, to set a dream to have a goal in life, something to work towards, maybe a passion that you want to pursue,” Sanoma said.
Sanoma will be holding her first ever book signing “Chasing Dreams: at Barnes and Noble in Bend Saturday, Sept. 2, at 2:00 p.m. For those who can’t attend, the book is available at local bookstores and on Amazon.