She was 17 and a student at Erindale High Scholl when Karen Preston accomplished what not many skaters had been able to do before or since-she became Canadian ladies figure skating champion in her first crack at the senior level.
The Mississauga skater cut a fast trail road from her first lessons with the Port Credit Figure Skating Club to the national throne. Before competing in Chiacoutomi, Quebec, she had been to two national championships, both at the junior level and she had come home with bronze medals both times.
She went to Quebec in 1989-high on desire, short on experience and hoping against hope-to just "finish among the top five." Even that seemed like an insurmountable task after she found herself in eighth place after the figures. But she won the short program and - throwing caution to the wind, something that became somewhat of a tradition for this spunky competitor in later years - she sated a flawless long program that included a triple toe loop, salchow and a variety of spectacular jumps to earn a standing ovation from an appreciative Quebec crowed.
More importantly, her program - skating to the theme of Andrew Lloyd Webber's smash musical hit, The Phantom of the Opera - also earned her first-place ordinals across the board from the judges (and with it the right to wear Canada's skating crown).
Her Chicoutami bravado not only beat defending champion Charlene Wong, but established Preston a star in her right and heir apparent to the great Elizabeth Manley.
It was the first of two national ladies titles Karen had won. She also finished runner-up to Josee Chouinard in two other Canadian Championships.
She had represented Canada in three World Championships (1989, '92 and '93), her best showing a pair of eighth place finish. In her two turns in the Olympic rink, Karen also finished a creditable eighth in the 1992 Winter Olympics in Lillehamer, Norway.
She was chosen Mississauga's Female Athlete of the Year for 1989 and a decade later, once she was well out of competitive skating , the door of Mississauga's Sports Hall of Fame opened for Preston.
After the sun set on her amateur career, Karen was offered a starring role as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Disney on Ice skating spectacular, Snow White.
At the professional level, she won a silver medal in the US Open Pro Championship in '97 and a year later was a bronze medallist in the Canadian Pro-AM competition.
Wherever she had competed (at home or abroad), Karen had never forgotten her Mississauga roots. "My career has taken me a long way from Port Credit," she said. "(But) I can vividly recall the excitement I experienced as a 10-year-old, driving with my family to a small (in hindsight) competition, but it was my first international! I recall the thrill of seeing the Canadian and American flags stretched out in the wind at the top of the Peace bridge and as we rolled into Buffalo."
Karen said she had been "very fortunate" she had received great support from her parents (dad cliff and mom Elizabeth Preston), family and many others.
"As with every athlete, there were countless hours that go unnoticed. The early morning practices, the hours upon hours of fitness training, the personal sacrifices, and all the hard work that goes on endlessly behind the scenes. It's one for the love of the sport and the desire to do one's personal best."