RICHMOND, B.C. - Cindy Klassen's rehabilitation from arthroscopic surgery on both knees began with baby steps just to get the swelling down.
Today, Canada's bubbly speedskating star is back on the oval, taking those long, powerful strides that gobble up metres of ice at a time.
"It's been feeling amazing," Klassen said Wednesday of her progress since the July surgery that forced her to miss this entire competitive season. "When I got on the ice my knees felt really good. I was surprised, technically, how good it felt because, taking a year off the ice, it would be something I'd need to start over again."
One knee was damaged playing high school basketball, the other from 10 seasons competing and training as a world-class skater. During the surgery this summer, ligaments and tendons were repaired, kneecaps scraped and scar tissue removed.
While away from the ice, she rode a stationary bike with the seat extended to limit the range of motion on her knees.
Now, with the 2010 Olympics just a year away, Klassen says she's motivated and hungry to compete again. The Winnipeg native will have a tough act to follow in Vancouver - she won five medals at the Turin Games in 2006.
"Sometimes there's exercises that get a little boring and tedious but you have that goal to getting back to where you were," she said. "That's driving me.
"Not everything's going to be as fun as you want it to be but that's the way it goes."
Klassen is attending a training camp this week at the Richmond Oval, the same venue that will be used for the Olympic long-track events in 2010. She'll also be at the facility in March for the world single distance championships, but not as a competitor.
She has yet race at a meaningful meet since the surgery but she's doing sets of laps for about an hour and plans to return to the World Cup circuit in the fall.
Klassen hasn't competed for more than a year after leaving the World Cup circuit last February to be at the bedside of her sister Lisa, who nearly died when her SUV plummeted from a Winnipeg bridge into the Red River.
Her sister made a full recovery but Klassen doesn't know how much skating rust she'll have to shed.
"I know a lot of people have taken time off and come back," said. "In the meantime, I've been training. I feel very confident about it."
Klassen, a five-foot-eight, 171-pound dynamo whose six medals makes her Canada's most accomplished Olympian, is no stranger to adversity.
She missed most of the 2003-04 season because of a training accident where she lost and edge and collided with another skater.
The result was a 10-centimetre laceration, 12 torn tendons and nerve and artery damage in her right forearm. After that came world records at 1,000, 1,500 and 3,000 metres.
In Turin, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge to call her the "woman of the Games."
She captured a 3,000-metre bronze, silver in the team relay, silver at 1,000 metres, bronze at 5,000 and gold in the 1,500. Klassen also earned a 3,000-metre bronze in 2002 at Salt Lake City.
This winter she's missing being part of the successes of Kristina Groves of Ottawa, Christine Nesbitt, of London, Ont., and Shannon Rempel of Winnipeg, who have been frequent podium visitors at World Cup meets.
"Our team is doing very well and that's exciting," she said. "But inside of me, I feel like I've got that hunger growing and the motivation."
However, Klassen isn't letting Canada's goal of winning the most medals in 2010 put pressure on her.
"You go (into an event) because you love it and you want to go out and perform the best you can on that day. As soon as you start putting extra pressure on yourself, you get too tense and you try too hard.
"I want to show our nation a sport that I love and how much fun it is."
Behind her, school children wobbled around the recently opened oval where Klassen, who trains in Calgary, expects to put in many more training laps.
"It's feeling more and more like home," she said of the new ice surface. "As I train here more and more it will feel natural coming here every day."