“People feel like they’ve been part of our journey, which is really special and we’re really grateful for that support.”
There’s a lot of hype surrounding Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue these days. These years, really. And it’s understandable. As the most decorated figure skaters in Canadian history, they’ve shattered records, raised the bar sky-high, and utterly entranced us in the process with their transcendent performances. Scott and Tessa’s spectacular combination of world-class athleticism and out-of-this-world artistry casts a spell on everyone who lays eyes on them.
Recently, their magic has stirred up an even more voracious feeding frenzy than usual, drumming up an insatiable appetite for more of Tessa & Scott, the brand. In the months surrounding the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, they graced the covers of countless magazines. W Network even released a reality show about them earlier this year. But at the centre of all the hubbub are two very grounded individuals who see through the fuss and refuse to let go of what they know really matters: being good people and always doing their best.
I had the great privilege of talking with Scott and Tessa when they were in Ottawa, Ontario last weekend for the Investors Group Stars on Ice presented by Lindt tour. Both during the interview and when they were “off duty,” they were friendly, gracious and humble; in other words, everything they appear to be. They were also generous with the little time they had to spare between warm-up and physiotherapy appointments, happily stepping off the ice to share some insights into what it’s like to be Scott and Tessa, the people, at such an interesting point in their lives.
For their next act…
Scott and Tessa are at a crossroads.
They’ve spent nearly two decades in a close collaboration that has earned them an outstanding figure skating résumé, including two World Championships (2010, 2012), six Canadian National Championships (2008-2010, 2012-2014), and Olympic gold (2010) and silver (2014 in both the ice dance and team events). Skating partners since Tessa was eight and Scott was 10, they share a special story that took them from their hometown of London, Ontario; to Canton, Michigan, where they moved as young teenagers to train; and, ultimately, all over the world, where they met with everything from joyous triumphs (at Skate Canada International in 2009, they became the first ice dancers to receive a perfect 10.0 score in international competition), to heartbreaking injuries (Tessa’s compartment syndrome was particularly difficult), to coming of age in the global spotlight.
I won’t go in-depth on their backstory; if you’re interested, there are plenty of ways to learn more, including reading their 2010 memoir from House of Anansi, Tessa & Scott: Our Journey from Childhood Dream to Gold. Suffice it to say that this focused, disciplined duo has already accomplished a lot. Yet they’re still very young, with long lives stretching ahead of them. Right about now, they’re considering which direction they want to take.
Scott and Tessa still haven’t decided whether to retire from competitive skating. (In Scott’s words: “We’ll announce as soon as we know.”) But they’re staying open to the many possibilities that lie before them, as two young people who are clearly bright, thoughtful, talented and hard working. Those possibilities include welcoming a little breathing room into their lives.
“We don’t know if we’re retiring but we know that we’re going to take at least a little bit of time off, and it is kind of nice,” says Scott. “We’ve been skating together for 17 years, been living in Canton, Michigan for 10, so it’s kind of exciting to think about post-amateur skating and getting back to our hometown, getting back to Canada.”
So far, the reality of their decision to take a break hasn’t really hit them. Since the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, they’ve kept up their training schedule in preparation for Stars on Ice, which runs until May 15. But after the tour, they know they’re in for a bit of a culture shock.
“Once we settle back into real life, there will be a little bit of an adjustment period,” says Scott. “We’ll miss the hard training days that we dreaded so, so much and I think I’ll really miss competing and being a part of the Canadian Olympic team.”
Whether or not they lace up for another Olympics, the decision won’t be about unmet skating goals. They’ve given their all every time they graced the ice, pushing the boundaries of their sport each step of the way. After their flawless gold medal-winning free dance in Vancouver, they did the seemingly impossible, raising the stakes and delivering a stunning execution of what Tessa calls an “extremely ambitious and demanding program” in Sochi.
“(NBC figure skating analyst) Tracy Wilson made a remark one day that the free dance we performed at Sochi was sort of starting off from the point that we ended in our 2010 free dance,” says Tessa. “We talked a lot about our 2014 free dance being the story of our careers and our 17-year partnership and the ups and downs, but heavily focused on the last four years. (In Vancouver), looking back it was a different kind of love story; I think we were much younger and there was an innocence about the program. Sochi, I think, had a lot of deeper emotion running through it… I think it showed how far we had come in four years.”
So if the next four years don’t see Scott and Tessa reuniting with Team Canada, what might they do instead?
Tessa is in her third year of a psychology degree at the University of Windsor, which she plans to focus on more heavily in the coming months. Scott has been on a break from school since moving to Michigan, and plans to get back into it, though in what subject, he’s undecided. He’s also thinking of pursuing some non-academic, more hands-on endeavours, like woodworking or contracting with his older brother. “(My career) was always about skating and it’ll be fun to learn different trades,” he says.
As Tessa puts it: “The next few months is a time for us to say ‘Yes’ and try new things and maybe step out of our comfort zone and really explore.”
Neither one seems daunted by branching out into the world beyond skating. Tessa attributes that adaptability to their supportive families. “We’ve grown up with parents who never really wanted us to identify ourselves as skaters,” she says. “So we’re Tessa and Scott the people, the students, so many other things, and skating is what we do, it’s not who we are. So I think that will really help with the transition or this next adjustment of not training every single day.
“But it’s also exciting. We’ve lived such regimented, disciplined lives and it’s really exciting to think about creating our own schedules and pursuing new passions.”
A peek behind the curtains
Moving away from their shared passion for figure skating and toward their own interests means, of course, that they won’t be spending nearly as much time together in the future. “It’ll be different,” says Scott. “The most we’ve been apart probably in the last 17 years is two months, when Tessa had her surgery for her shins (in 2010). It’s going to be an adjustment, for sure. Luckily we have things like Stars on Ice and skating shows that will keep us coming back together. And plus we’ll hopefully do some work outside of figure skating that will be together as well.”
As close as the two have grown, and as accustomed as the public is to seeing Scott and Tessa as a pair, the truth is that they also have their own separate lives. The public and the media have insisted on imposing their own narrative on Tessa and Scott’s relationship, but it doesn’t reflect the real story.
“It does get a little bit annoying, for sure,” says Scott. “It’s just funny (to us). But that’s society nowadays; they want to be involved and I guess we have to take that as interest and that people care about our story, and take pride in that. As imposing as it sometimes is on your personal lives, I really do think it’s just people caring.”
Tessa agrees that the speculation seems to come from a sense of investment in their evolution as skaters. “I think people feel like they’ve been part of our journey, which is really special and we’re really grateful for that support,” she says.
Still, given Scott and Tessa’s reluctance to lay everything bare on Twitter, it’s surprising that they signed up for W’s reality show, which was shot over several months in late 2013 and early 2014. “The reality show was an interesting choice because… I’m not a fan of reality television,” says Scott. “We wanted to do something that was more of a documentary series, so it was interesting the way it came out.” That way, from what I gleaned from the episode summaries, points to underlying tensions between Tessa and Scott, trying once again to suggest there’s more to their partnership than meets the eye.
Not that there are any hard feelings about it. “We understand that they have to sell a TV show,” says Scott, who admits he’s only seen one episode. (“I have to give myself space.”)
Ultimately, they did the show for two reasons. First, they wanted to share their story with Canadians. As Scott says: “We had a great crew that was honest with us and we were honest with them, so I think that people got the real Tess and Scott.” Second, they wanted to document their journey to 2014. “We look back at 2010 and think: ‘What happened? I don’t remember leading up to it.’ The reality show was a good way for us to look back maybe in six or seven years and remember what we went through.”
For Scott and Tessa, the reality is that what they went through, as people and as athletes, goes a lot deeper than what the rumour mill sometimes tends to churn out. Since they were first paired in 1997 by Scott’s aunt, figure skating coach Carol Moir, their partnership has pushed each one to be a better person: stronger, more confident and more giving.
“I was lucky that I found Tessa, because she had this great dance background and she really brought a lot to the table early,” says Scott. “I was a hockey player and it wasn’t until I got this fire under me from Tessa kind of outdoing me in a couple things that it made me really realize what training hard was, and got me trying to be better and kind of grasping that concept.”
Their early pairing led to a unique unison that earned them accolades and plenty of medals over the years. But it also laid the groundwork for the supportive friendship that has kept them soaring, no matter how challenging the circumstances.
“We’ve changed so much in 17 years,” says Scott. “When we moved away from home at 13 and 15, we were each other’s families, really, and we needed to be there for each other. But then there came the teenage years and growing into our own, when we kind of moved apart and then came back together.
“Then after 2010, we were thrown into this business world that we didn’t know existed in skating. We were in shows and getting sponsorships and we were just kids. So we’ve had this learning curve together and those are experiences that have changed us as people, and I think it’s a unique part of our story, having a relationship that’s so strong.
“We’ve gone through the tough times, and there are times when we have what people may call a fight, but we’ve never name-called, we just never went down that path. We’ve always been each other’s biggest fans, so there was always that level of respect, and our relationship in the end is what we relied on. Our longevity is what made us champions.”
A winning perspective
Looking back, Scott and Tessa have no regrets. They even view Tessa’s compartment syndrome, which Scott says was far more grueling than most people realize, as an integral part of their story, one that played a role in getting them where they are today.
And they’re thrilled with how things went in Sochi, from their performances to the support they’ve gotten from Canadians—before, during and after the Olympics. “We’re always so proud to represent Canada, and it’s been extremely heartwarming coming home,” says Tessa. “The response we’ve received has just been touching, especially with the silvers because I think there’s the pressure to defend a title when you’re going in as Olympic champions, and we didn’t want to disappoint anyone. We wanted to bring home the gold for Canada and we wanted to share that success with everyone. But it truly felt like a gold when we came home.”
Looking forward, both Tessa and Scott are very clear on what they want to accomplish. They may not know what form it will take—competitive figure skating, coaching, choreography, costume design, volunteering, sports psychology, carpentry, or something else altogether. But whatever they do, they plan to do it with integrity, living lives that reflect their very best and that continue to make those around them proud.
“We always want to be remembered as being great people and not just skaters,” says Scott. “We always felt a good connection with the volunteers who helped us in skating competitions and helped Skate Canada, and also with the management on our rink. We just want to be remembered as good people who had a good time and enjoyed skating for what it was; as people who enjoyed the sport and loved what we did every day.”
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For the latest on Scott and Tessa, visit virtuemoir.com, and follow @Scott Moir and @tessavirtue on Twitter.
Thank you to Barb MacDonald, Skate Canada and Stars on Ice for making this interview possible.