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Spectacular crash fuels slider's olympic dream

Calgarian learned from'bad run' at 2006 GamesVicki Hall, Calgary Herald
Published: Friday, December 12, 2008

Const. Tania Simister watched in horror at the 2006 Winter Olympics as her daughter, Meaghan, smacked into an in-house video camera and hit the roof at curve 17,

The big screen at the Olympic luge facility went black as the camera broke into pieces.

Much like the medal hopes of a Canadian teenager careening down the ice behind her sled.

"They put the Olympic flag over her just like they put a tarp over injured horses at the Calgary Stampede," said Tania Simister, a rookie police officer in downtown Calgary. "We couldn't see what was happening. We had no idea if she was OK."

Meaghan emerged from the wreck with bruises but no breaks.So physically, she was fine.Mentally, she needed time to come to terms with crashing at the Olympics, of all times and places.

"It was obviously a little disappointing," Tania said. "But she took the experience and learned from it.

"She realizes now that you can crash or have a bad run. You just have to put it behind you. Those things happen in luge. And life."

A product of Calgary's National Sport School, Meaghan bounced back from her Olympic crash to place ninth last March at the 2008 World Luge Championships. That's still six spots away from the podium.

"I've improved immensely over the years," said Meaghan, who is competing this weekend at a World Cup stop in Winterburg, Germany. "There were years where I could barely make it down the track. Now, I'm fighting for top tens. So I'm moving in the right direction."

Indeed. Even as a relative youngster, Simister is considered one of the most explosive starters in the world. Just last week, the Regina native tied the start record on the Sigulda track in Latvia at 1.799 seconds.

By the time she crossed the finish line, Meaghan found herself in 15th place for the second weekend in a row.

"I've had some all-right results," said Meaghan, who moved to Calgary at age 4."Hopefully, I can break into the top-10. I'm working on a lot of little things,

Her main problem? Lack of consistency.

"She's still extremely young,"said head coach Wolfgang Staudinger. "She's just starting out. There's a lot of promise there. I don't want to talk medals, because there's still a ways to go in her sliding. There's the odd run where she hits the top five or top six but--and I hate to say but -- she can't put it together twice.

"This is a lack of experience."

At 13, Meaghan experienced luge for the first time at a summer camp hosted by Canada Olympic Park. That summer camp propelled her onto the world stage by her 14th birthday as one of Canada's top juniors competing in Germany.

"I was a bit of a natural at the start," she said. "My arms are super long, and I'm fast."

Looking back, Meaghan believes she psyched herself out on her first trip to the five-ring circus. "I was expecting a top-15,and I didn't do that,"she said. "But after it was all said and done, I was still the same person.My parents still loved me. I was still a good athlete. Nothing had changed."

Some people need to crash--literally or figuratively--before they can reach their full potential. Meaghan believes she falls into that category.

And maybe, just maybe, she can use the Turin experience as a launching pad to her medal hopes at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

"I'm not afraid of failing," she said. "You can't let that hold you back. And at my first Olympics, I kind of did. I was a little apprehensive,

"But I'm so much more mature now. I'm 22. I was 19 at my first Olympics. Just a teenager."

Twenty-two years ago, Tania Simister was not yet 18 when she married her husband, Bryan, and gave birth to her eldest daughter and future Olympian, Meaghan.

"Yeah, it was challenging,"Tania said. "But we've been married 22 years now, and we have three kids."

Tania raised her kids and worked as a security supervisor at the University of Calgary. All the while, she harboured a dream of becoming a police officer. Six months back, Tania, now 39, became a constable with the Calgary Police Service. "It's something I always wanted to do," she said. "The kids are older now and pretty self-sufficient. So I decided to go for it."

She credits Meaghan, one of Canada's medal hopes for 2010, for providing the inspiration to chase after her goal.

Meaghan gives kudos to her mom for doing the same.

"She always said she wanted to do this for herself,"Meaghan said. "She worked so hard and trained so hard. It's so impressive. I definitely support her."

Consider that support mutual.

Whether Meaghan hits the podium. Or the wall.

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© The Calgary Herald 2008