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Coleman: From Near Death To Champion

Published: May 17, 2010 12:54 pm ET

Last Comment: May 18, 2010 1:17 pm ET | 2 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

There are few walks of life where a female can enter a male-dominated domain and succeed.

That is especially true in the sport of harness racing.

However, 29-year-old female trainer Casie Coleman has been able to buck that trend. In fact, she has been voted Canada's top trainer in three of the last four years and became the youngest conditioner to collect $25 million in purse earnings, reaching that plateau earlier this season.

She will, as one of the sport's elite trainers, embark on another championship run this Thursday night when the Mohawk meet kicks off for a 108-day meet.

It is pretty heady stuff for a young lady who grew up as part of a racing family in British Columbia.

The province of Ontario, which has long been the hotbed of Canadian harness racing, seemed like a world away at that time and she longed for the day she would one day meet and compete against many of the people she idolized.

"This is all I've ever wanted to do and all I ever knew how to do," she admits. "Out in BC, it was a hard way to make a living and my parents tried to guide me towards something else, but they couldn't. It's unbelievable when I think what's happened to me since then. Every once in a while I look around the house at all the pictures, blankets and trophies...it really is hard to imagine."

It seems Coleman was determined from day one not to let anything stand in the way of reaching her ultimate goal. In fact, she had turned down a chance to play on the national fast pitch team and a scholarship to culinary school in what was a relentless pursuit of her dream.

But, that dream very nearly came to a tragic end in the summer of 2000.

Coleman, who was working as a groom for Bill Davis at the time, was putting away her own horse, Southside Pride, on what was a very hot Saturday evening following that afternoon's races.

It was around 7:00 when she was heating a solution to use on the horse's legs. As she went to fuel the flame, the solution suddenly exploded, spraying much of her body with the boiling liquid.

Amid the chaos that ensued, Coleman didn't realize that she, herself, had caught fire but her immediate concern was for her panicking horse.

"My horse went nuts and ripped himself off the crossties," she recalls. "I actually thought he was the one who was on fire and I grabbed onto his halter and was not about to let him go. All I could think to myself was that I was going to kill my horse because of this. He finally ran into an empty stall."

Little did Coleman know her own clothing had caught fire and that she was in great peril.

Suddenly, people came running and screaming, throwing buckets of water on her and trying to snuff the flame out with blankets and towels. It wasn't until that point when Coleman realized what was happening and the gravity of the situation.

"By the time the flames got put out, I looked down and could see it wasn't a good scene," she explains. "There was blood and skin everywhere and I started to freak out a bit then."

She had been burned severely, but there was now another concern to deal with. Davis recognized the fact she would probably go into shock. He got Coleman into his truck and quickly rushed towards the hospital. It was a decision she thinks ultimately may have saved her life.

"We had to be going 200km on the way to the hospital," she remembers. "I've never seen Billy scared of anything but when he looked at me and saw the damage, he was as white as a sheet. He just kept asking me if I was okay and kept me awake. As soon as we arrived there, I passed out."

When Coleman awoke, she had already been transferred to the intensive care unit at another hospital and doctors there had to wait five days before they could perform surgery on her in order to let the burning cool and cut down the risk of infection.

It turned out that Coleman had burned 22 per cent of her body. Her right leg suffered the brunt of the damage and, before surgery, doctors warned her parents that amputation might be necessary.

Fortunately, that was not the case and following successful surgery, Coleman would spend another two months in intensive care before being released to start the healing process at home.

She was warned by doctors that she could not be around the barn for up to two years due to the risk of infection. This did not sit well with the horse-crazy young lady who didn't know what she would do with herself.

"The second day home, I found my truck keys (which her mother had been hiding on her) and I drove into work that day," she says. "It was about 10 minute drive to the barn and I couldn't even feel my legs when I got there. My parents were losing their minds when they saw me drive in," she laughs. "I just said, this is the way it is. I'm staying at the barn and you guys will just have to deal with it. So, if you drive me in every day it will be easier. If not, I'll get here somehow."

Her parents gave in.

She was just happy to be around what she loved and it is that type of courage and drive that has in her in the position she is in today. In addition to being the defending O'Brien Award winner, she handles the pre-season favourite for this year's $1.5 million Pepsi North America Cup which takes place on June 26 at Mohawk.

Sportswriter won seven of his eight races last year including a 1:49.2 World Record performance in the $1 million Metro Pace, also raced at Mohawk.

"I've trained a lot of nice horses and he's by far the nicest one I've had," she offers candidly. "My main goal is the North America Cup...everything I'm doing now, every move I'm making, is to try and do what I think I have to do to win that race. It's a race I watched as a kid all the time. Now, to be in it and have a shot would be just a dream come true."

Based on what she has gone through to get here, betting against her may not be a good idea.

(WEG)

May 18, 2010 - 1:17 pmThis is a great story - as

LIZ THERRIEN SAID...

This is a great story - as are many stories in harness racing. Why can't someone get this kind of stuff in the mainstream newspapers instead of keeping to ourselves? Talk about promoting the sport to outsiders - this is a golden opportunity. A heroic woman battling adversity to become trainer of the year and a canadian to boot. Come on people canadians are craving canadian heroes - get the stories out there.

May 17, 2010 - 2:13 pmYou know, I feel for Casie,

alan guthrie SAID...

You know, I feel for Casie, however there are a lot of other people in this business that could use some recognition. This business is all about the elite. How about the rest of the people?


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