The community gathered on Thursday evening for a much-anticipated visit by Olympic Champion Tessa Virtue, organized by the Weyburn Young Fellows Club. Following past delays due to the pandemic, Weyburn welcomed the decorated Ice-Dancer to the event with applause following a prime rib dinner prepared by the Young Fellows.

Questions were fielded to the public prior to the event and streamlined into a panel hosted by Moderator Katherine Gilliss for the evening. Gilliss was thrilled to occupy the role of Moderator as a self-proclaimed "super fan, but not in a weird way!", and added a genuine element of interest that led the conversation to answer the questions on everyone's minds. 

One of the most common points of interest in Tessa Virtue's athletic career is her relationship with dance partner, Scott Moir, and how that relationship developed as they grew up. First partnered together at the ages of 7 and 9, Tessa and Scott were only children when their potential was first recognized. By their teens, they had entire teams of support staff dedicated to their success on the ice, including Kinesiologists, Sports Psychologists, and even a marriage counsellor.

"Despite the comments we often received, we were focused on cultivating an environment of respect towards one another. Every day, we were committed to lifting each other up and making each other the best athletes we could be; and so at the ages of 15 and 17 we actually visited a marriage counselor to help strengthen the relationship that we were building."

"We had an incredible bond that many saw at times as romantic, but I realize now was just a deep sense of care and respect that we had for each other."

Olympic athletes often train for the games in what they dub as 'quads': Four-year long cycles of training, qualifying, and competing towards the world stage. Following their first quad, having missed qualification for the 2006 Olympic Games, Virtue said that their resolve had strengthened knowing the next games were in Canada. But by the time they had competed at the following Games in Sochi, Tessa recalled feeling "tired and almost disillusioned towards sport." She had even assumed they would be stepping away from competition.

However, it was together that Virtue and Moir decided to continue on. This time, flipping the script and building a support team the way they wanted it to be, rather than becoming the athletes that a support team expected them to be. The duo built a support staff of 25-30 experts and held monthly board meetings to clearly determine how they could extract the best out of their team, "which is really the exact opposite of what we were used to at that point," said Virtue. "Doing things our way completely shifted the dynamic and led us towards the pursuit of excellence rather than chasing perfection."

Virtue shared that this shift in perspective also led to much more effective training strategies. For example, when most ice-dancers fell during practice the norm was to start the routine over again from the beginning, seeking to do it again and again until perfection is achieved. Their newfound pursuit of excellence helped her face and overcome her biggest fear: Failure.

"To fail in skating means falling, so we had to find a way to prepare for that in our training. In a four-minute routine we would train to purposely fall at every blow of the whistle, so that we could experience what it was like to fail. But more importantly, what it was like to pick right back up and continue the routine after falling." 

Having not only found a new resolve for the fierce competition of high-performance sport, Tessa said she gained a new perspective on her personal and professional lives.  "I once viewed everything through this filter of 'will this help me win the Olympics', but after Sochi I wrote a personal mission statement and that is to empower young girls, and women, and that became my guide in everything."

Virtue and Gilliss closed the night with the topic of addressing burnout and mental health. Having gained powerful tools from her time as a champion, Virtue said that the keys to recovery are universal and apply to all facets of life.

"We had to learn how to not just implement rest and recovery, but also to prioritize it in a meaningful way. We had to treat rest as important and with as much intensity as we did our training."

Virtue added that she encourages the pursuit of sport for such valuable lessons as these, and that it can build great confidence, especially in young women, when you set lofty goals and work towards achieving them.

"You already have the tools inside of you to succeed, and you are perfect the way you are. Just find the courage to put yourself out there in the most authentic way and chase what you desire most."