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Some well-known sports names are here: Ted Nolan, Seymour Knox, soccer player Michelle Akers, Mario Lemieux and golfer David Duval.

But most of Pat LaFontaine's mini-profiles of courage aren't big shots. They're everyday regular people who haven't carved out a huge public legacy, except in their own communities.

There's Aaron Graves, the former St. Joe's basketball player who taught people how to live as he approached his death.

There's Erik Fanara, the North Buffalo youth who lost his battle with cancer at age 10, just six months after LaFontaine dedicated his National Hockey League award to him.

There's Joey Simonick, born without a left ventricle but now playing youth hockey for the Buffalo Regals with a transplanted heart.

LaFontaine, who played for the Buffalo Sabres for six seasons, has put a decidedly Western New York spin on his book, "Companions in Courage: Triumphant Tales of Heroic Athletes."

"The wonderful, inspirational time I spent with the kids at Children's Hospital during my playing days in Buffalo are the motivation behind my desire to share the rich stories of so many Companions in Courage," LaFontaine writes. "My heart was touched so many times, and each time it was the result of God's little children expressing mature and adult perceptions about life and death."

Read through all the profiles here, and you see that LaFontaine clearly left a piece of his heart back in Buffalo with the children who battled life-threatening diseases at Children's and Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

The former Sabres captain will appear at the Barnes & Noble book store on Niagara Falls Boulevard at 7 tonight to sign copies of his book which profiles some 55 athletes, about 10 with Western New York ties.

LaFontaine has done more than write a book. A portion of his advance helped set up a Web-based network for athletes to share their stories, inspiring others to chase their dreams.

Another part of the advance went to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. And the book-sale earnings will be donated to the NHL Hockey's All-Star Kids Foundation, funding patient visits and programs for children's hospitals.

This book will elicit totally different reactions from different groups of readers.

Those who like their books inspirational, with a tug or two on the heart and requiring a box of Kleenex on the nightstand, will adore this book. LaFontaine has compiled a who's who of those who have turned adversity into triumph. They've battled severe illnesses, racism, devastating injuries and congenital disabilities.

Many readers who like their stories with more meat on the bones will consider these mini-profiles tasty hors d'oeuvres, whetting their appetites but not filling them up. Some stories contain more platitudes than insights, but it's tough to profile someone in three to six pages.

LaFontaine and his crew of writers score best when they share the poignant moments of individual lives. Here are a few of his heroes:

Zoe Koplowitz, a woman with multiple sclerosis, who trained for the New York City marathon and crossed the finish line - in 27 hours. Two years later, marathon runner Grete Waitz waited for her at the finish line with a medal. Up the final hill came Koplowitz, crutches and all, accompanied by nearly 100 runners, as Waitz and friends chanted "Zoe, Zoe, Zoe."

Jon Brianas, a Naval Academy lacrosse captain who survived two bouts of testicular cancer. After three lengthy rounds of chemotherapy, Brianas rushed into a team meeting to find all his teammates with their heads shaved. A team full of guys who had lost their hair.

Seymour Knox, in his last days, his body ravaged by cancer, being lifted up by LaFontaine, who marveled at the love, confidence and trust he saw in his good friend's eyes.

"To me, there's only one unhappy element of knowing and respecting people like Seymour Knox," he writes. "When they're gone, you miss them even more."

LaFontaine also writes, in aching detail, about the severe concussion he suffered with the Sabres. The injury left him depressed and totally drained, leading to the day he broke down while explaining his plight to his coach, Ted Nolan.

Powerful stuff.

This clearly isn't a book for everyone. Hard-boiled cynics and readers who like their writing edgy may find these write-ups too syrupy for their liking.

But those looking for inspiring stories about the triumph of the human spirit have come to the right place. Settle in for a good read - and a good cry.

" Companions in Courage"

By Pat LaFontaine, with Dr. Ernie Valutis, Chas Griffin and Larry Weisman

Warner Books

266 pages,


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