How I Made It

Tessa Virtue, Olympic Figure Skater

Tessa Virtue is a London, Ont-born figure skater—who, alongside partner Scott Moir—is the most decorated figure skater in Olympic history. Here, she tells FLARE how she made it

tessa virtue wears a white shirt and smiles with a side ponytail

Tessa Virtue; @tessavirtue17

How do you describe your job to your family?

My family has been privy to the rollercoaster that has been my job since I was young. They understand that the life of an athlete requires discipline, sacrifice, and structure. That said, I am currently experiencing a shift as I move away from competitive skating. It is time to step out of my comfort zone and embrace new challenges. I’m co-producing a 30-city tour this fall with Scott Moir [Virtue’s skating partner of 21 years, with whom she’s won three Olympic gold medals, two silvers and three world championships], which I think will be both wildly difficult and extremely fulfilling.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

For much of my 10-year stint training in Canton, Michigan, I attended the University of Windsor and studied psychology. I’m three half-credits short of graduating, and I plan to pursue a masters of business administration.

What was your BIG break? How did you land it?

My big break occurred when I was six years old and met Scott Moir.

 What would you say has been your most significant setback, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?

I suffer from chronic exertional compartment syndrome, [which is] an overuse injury affecting my shins and calves. After two surgeries and a decade of intense work with sport physiologists, physiotherapists, osteopaths, massage therapists and psychologists, I learned to alter my training to adapt to my circumstances. I have surrounded myself with a top-notch support team, changed my mechanics (which meant rerouting brain patterns to facilitate different technique), and committed to pushing my body’s limits without pushing through the pain. It’s a constant struggle, but it has taught me so many lessons about evolving expectations and redefining the “norm.”

Name one piece of career advice you always give.

It’s all about balance! For athletes, it is unhealthy to be one-sport focused, especially at a young age.  I believe in exposing kids to lots of activities—there are great advantages to being a well-rounded athlete and human, no matter the field of play.

Who is your favourite person to follow on social media from your industry? What do you love about their social feeds?

Fellow figure skater Adam Rippon is particularly hysterical. I love that he showcases his genuine humour while also using his platform to take a stand on meaningful, relevant topics.

What’s the most pressing issue facing women in your industry right now? What would fix it?

Women in figure skating, like in every other industry, are expected to conform to an unrealistic standard of beauty. Unhealthy habits are often encouraged to promote a thin frame, and young girls idealize a skewed definition of “fit.” Add to that the ever-present power dynamic between coach and athlete, and girls have an enormous weight to carry before being equipped with the tools to properly protect themselves. It’s troubling, but with more women speaking up and sharing their stories, I would like to think there is hope for change both in culture and as it relates to self-esteem.

Do you think you earn a similar wage as your male counterparts in your industry?

I know that when Scott and I work together, our earnings are equal.

Have you ever asked for a raise? If so, how did you phrase it and did you get it? If not, why not?

Understanding my worth in the market is part of my job, and ensuring I am valued is important to me.  I love negotiating, and do so frequently for contracts. I am fair and reasonable, but willing to walk away if a deal cannot be struck.

Looking to the future, what worries you the most about your career?

Let’s face it: 2018 will be hard for me to top.  I often worry that I will never fill the void of competition, or that anything less than performing on the world’s biggest stage—however terrifying that may be—will be unfulfilling. I have to trust that the skill set I learned through skating will transfer.  It’s just about finding the right passion to focus my energy into!

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