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Tessa Virtue says goodbye to Canada with cross-country tour: ‘I can’t think of a better way to go’

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are among the elite athletes headlining the Rock the Rink tour.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are among the elite athletes headlining the Rock the Rink tour. Supplied

Tessa Virtue may have just announced her ice dancing retirement, but that’s not the end for her just yet — not even close.

Over the next two months, Canadian cities big and small are being treated to a farewell tour for Virtue and her ice dancing partner, Scott Moir. The beloved dancing duo are pairing up again for the cross-country figure skating show Rock the Rink.

While skating and non-skating fans alike are eager to see the duo — who captured hearts with their gold-medal-winning Moulin Rouge performance last year — one more time, the Olympic skaters will be joined by other young athletes on the ice at Rock the Rink.

READ MORE: Moir and Virtue announce retirement from ice dancing

Virtue and Moir will take to the ice alongside 27 Special Olympics Canada athletes, including 16-year-old Emma Bittorf, an avid golfer, ice dancer and huge fan of Virtue and Moir.

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“I’m excited to see Tessa and Scott. This is the first time I get to meet them,” Bittorf said. “I look up to [them]. They do a really good job on the ice.”

Bittorf, decked in blue and sparkles, is set to open the Medicine Hat, Alta., tour stop on Oct. 19, but Rock the Rink isn’t where her career begins: the teenager took home silver in golf at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi this year and is set to return in 2021 for skating.

Emma Bittorf is one of the Special Olympics ice dancers performing at Rock the Rink.
Emma Bittorf is one of the Special Olympics ice dancers performing at Rock the Rink. Supplied

Rock the Rink kicked off in Abbotsford, B.C., and will travel across the country, holding its final show in St. John’s, N.L., on Nov. 23.

Until then, Virtue is soaking up the magic of working with her former ice dancing partner and an incredible cast of young, inspirational athletes before taking a load off for the holiday season.

Global News caught up with Virtue, 30, over the phone while the decorated athlete was in Abbotsford preparing for her epic cross-country goodbye.

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Global News: How does it feel to be heading out on your last Canadian tour?

Tessa Virtue: It was a really thrilling process putting together this particular tour for so many reasons. It’s layered by the fact that we have an incredible international cast of many people that we’ve grown up skating with, skaters we admire who have accomplished significant things on the world stage but who are also so creatively inspired and eager to collaborate, with this being our last tour.

READ MORE: Virtue and Moir to receive honorary degrees from Western University

How do you prepare for such a long tour?

It requires something athletically unlike anything else we’ve really known. It’s a straight 90- to 100-minute set of skating, and there are only nine cast members. In order to make it an entertaining and captivating show, we really need to exert a lot of energy. We’ve been rehearsing here in Abbotsford as a group for already three weeks, working 10-hour days on the ice to ensure that everything is in tight formations and we’re all ready to perform. Ultimately, we’re taking skating fans — and hopefully non-skating fans, too — on a journey where they feel something.

Working with Special Olympics Canada, which you and Scott Moir have done for a while, must feel pretty special, too.

Scott and I have been working with Special Olympics Canada for quite some time, and it’s obviously something that is just so close to our hearts. I think what we’re most excited about is just to share the ice with these incredible athletes and to showcase [them] all the way across Canada, to spread that message of inclusion, to showcase how the impact truly transforms lives of children, youth and adults with intellectual disability. We’re just honoured to come together and share that across Canada.
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Rocking the rink
Rocking the rink

In a lot of things you’ve done off the rink, inclusion and empowerment have seemed very important to you.

It’s important for so many reasons. It’s necessary, it’s meaningful and so relevant in today’s world. These things need to be talked about, [and] a lot of the narratives need to change. It’s always been important for me to use this platform that I’ve been [given], and I’m grateful for it but I also take it seriously and I just think I’ve been so privileged to have been able to chase my dreams in a very unique way, and that’s because I received a lot of support from people around me. I would love for everyone else to get that opportunity as well.

You’re quite a role model for a lot of young people, like Emma Bittorf. How does that feel?

It’s something that we don’t take lightly. It’s an important part … of having some kind of platform. But you know, when you see what Emma’s accomplished, there’s a mutual admiration going on here, and that’s not just in skating. She’s also an avid golfer, a basketball player. It’s truly impressive. I just love seeing how Special Olympics has played a part in her life.

READ MORE: Scott Moir engaged to former skating partner — and it’s not Tessa Virtue

Canadians have been following your career for many years, but your Olympic gold medal win with Scott really captured the world.

Canadians always rally behind their athletes. We’ve always felt like we’re just the luckiest kids to be able to represent our country on the world stage, and the outpouring of love and support we’ve received, whether that was our first time at the Games bringing home silvers after Sochi or announcing our retirement, it never wavered and continues to surprise us. Canadians never cease to amaze me, and they continue to support us. In all honesty, that’s made this touring preparation process that much more special because we know we’ve got to cross the country and get to say a final farewell to the people who have really been with us for the last two decades.

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Ice dance gold medallists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, of Canada, pose during their medals ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Charlie Riedel
Ice dance gold medallists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, of Canada, pose during their medals ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Charlie Riedel THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Charlie Riedel

Was making the decision to retire tough for you, or did it feel like the right time?

Tough in that it’s always hard to step away from something you’ve known and loved for such a long time, but it feels right. Like most major decisions in our career, Scott and I just came to it very organically together. It’s a feeling thing. How lucky that we get to step away at this point in our career when we can do it on our own terms and [from] a place where we still have such passion for the sport. We’re excited for what’s to come. I mean, we get 28 times [to say goodbye], all the way across the country [to] some of our favourite cities, to celebrate the career we’ve had.
Olympic ice dance champion, Tessa Virtue partners with Nivea
Olympic ice dance champion, Tessa Virtue partners with Nivea

Are there any cities you’re particularly excited to return to?

There are so many cities that have played just critical parts in our story. Of course, a lot of the hometown stuff in the London, [Ont.], area is one. Vancouver, we have fond memories. It will be really fun to return to cities that don’t often get skating shows. [Last year], we were so surprised by the engagement of the audience and being able to share in that energy. It ignited something in us again as performers, and we were so used to striving for perfection, but instead, it’s really just about making people feel something and connecting with an audience in a very genuine way. For us, I can’t think of a better way to go.

Do you have any plans after the tour wraps up?

It will be important to take some time to reflect. The nice thing is we have the next two months to really let … it percolate, and then there’ll just be an inherent crash that happens after the tour, much like every other project. So it’ll be good to just sit back, and then, of course, we’re near the holiday season so finally getting some time with our families will also be really special.

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I’m finishing my psychology degree right now, and my plan is to start my MBA at Queen’s in the fall. Just from an entrepreneurial standpoint, a lot of new business things. I’m really excited for some new projects, some new collaborations, and it would be nice to sink my teeth into something off the ice as well.

meaghan.wray@globalnews.ca

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