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In-line speedster gloats over goat

She treasures her Netherlands race trophy

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In-line speedskating has given Meaghan Buisson many things, but a goat was never among them until now.

That's right: A goat was the prize at the Netherlands In-line Cup Circuit race in Waarde, which the Winnipeg native won last Saturday.

Buisson, 29, would have been handed a live goat except the local SPCA had recently cracked down on the age-old practice. So she received a goat statue mounted on a hunk of cobblestone from the road she raced on and a bouquet of goat-friendly flowers so she can feed them to a deserving local goat.

"It's kind of strange, but goats are very big in this area and the race is called The Race For the Goat," Buisson said in a phone interview from the Netherlands. "It would have been a real, live goat had the SPCA not put an end to it. It's certainly the most unique trophy I've ever received and certainly one I'll keep forever."

Buisson is the solo marathon time-trial world-record holder in in-line speedskating, a sport that is not recognized by Sport Canada but is huge in Europe. After working four jobs last winter, Buisson is now living halfway around the world with no coach and no funding. She has endured unspeakable hardships -- severe injury, homelessness, poverty and sometimes despair -- during her 10 years at the elite level in the sport and has lived all over the world.

"I just love this sport. My favourite quote is 'skating will never be my whole life, but when I skate, I am alive. Because I skate, I am now alive,'" she said.

The Race for the Goat was her first victory since returning to competitive in-line skating this spring after two years away in long-track ice speedskating and spending last winter rehabilitating a serious back injury.

Buisson had competed in in-line speedskating from 1999-2005 before moving to ice, where she had instant success. She set a provincial record in the 5,000-metre race in Saskatchewan, where she was going to university, and was named to the federal 2010 Own the Podium program. It was the beginning of the end, as a debilitating condition in her back, exacerbated by the positioning needed in ice speedskating, was compounded by a torn hamstring.

"I was at the Olympic Oval. I'd been injured for a month. I couldn't feel my legs when I was skating and they'd give out," she said. She left ice speedskating on Sept. 14, 2008. "Finally, I'd had enough and I had to walk away. My heart was breaking as much as my body."

She was at a loss about what to do next. Buisson said she was riding an exercise bike last Christmas at the Kinsmen Reh-Fit Centre when it came to her.

"I was watching all these everyday people working so hard just to get back to doing regular things, and I was so humbled," she said. "I knew I had to go back to what I loved -- in-line speed skating. It gave me something, during that heart-wrenching time in physio, to work for. To be so beaten and so broken, I've never had an in-line season where I'm just skating because I love it. And that's this year."

In Winnipeg, Doreen Bechtle of Canadian Sport Centre Manitoba arranged gym time for her, and in Saskatoon, Bruce Craven assisted her with setting up her training program.

There's no Olympics to shoot for. She's competed in the Pan Am Games, so Buisson returned to Europe last month to compete on the Netherlands circuit as part of a four-woman team and prepare to go after another world record at the World Championships in Harbin, China, Sept. 16-27. First, she'll be back in Canada for the Canadian national championships July 3-6 in Cambridge, Ont.

"I want to walk out of in-line speedskating on my terms. I left it two-and-a-half years ago as a world-record holder and no one has broken it yet," she said. "I don't know if I'll get back to that level, but I'll give it my best shot."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 28, 2009 C6

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