Exemplary OCT

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's


by Kim Pallozzi, OCT

Olympic gold medallists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are living proof that sometimes remarkable people come in pairs. And just as a strong figure skating partnership has brought success to their careers, it took a pair of inspiring and understanding teachers to change each of their lives as students.

Tessa Virtue was six when she started to skate, and as a result her experience at school was different than that of most students. Her dedication to the sport meant having to adapt to rigorous schedules and miss out on many things, including morning classes. These challenges came as early as Grade 4. Fortunately for Virtue, she was never alone in the struggle.

“It was thanks to accommodating teachers who believed in me and understood my training commitments that I was able to succeed,” she says.

Throughout the years, Virtue attended a number of schools and met a series of teachers who made a difference. Harry Kemperman, OCT, a career studies teacher at Bluevale CI in Waterloo, was one of them.

It was thanks to accommodating teachers who believed in me and understood my training commitments that I was able to succeed.

“I moved to Waterloo when I was 13. I had skipped Grade 8 completely — for scheduling reasons — so I started high school younger and shorter than everyone else,” Virtue recalls. “I was even missing a couple of front teeth. I was new to the school and it was a very intimidating experience. But Mr. Kemperman made me feel welcome and supported, and he always encouraged my skating. He would send me motivational emails. I was really glad to talk to him when I was away.”

Tess Virtue celebrates her Olympic gold with Happy Kemperman, OCT, at Bluevale CI.

Although she had Kemperman for only half a semester, she’s still in touch with him today and considers him a friend.

Kemperman’s memories of Virtue are just as fond: “She completely impressed me. She really knew what she wanted. She was driven, motivated and incredibly organized.”

Despite missing a fair amount of class time, Virtue finished with the highest mark in Kemperman’s course.

“There was a research assignment that the students had on what career they wanted to explore,” Kemperman says. “All the hockey players were researching how to become professional hockey players —or something connected to sports. I was expecting Tessa to research within the skating community but soon realized that her interests extended far beyond. Her presentation was about lawyers, and she did a fabulous job. That’s when I realized what a well-rounded kid she was.”

When it came to her skating, Kemperman says, Virtue was quiet and never one to blow her own horn. “Only after I’d realized that one of her competitions was in the Czech Republic did it dawn on me just what kind of skating potential she had.” Little did he know that five years later Virtue would personally invite him to a homecoming celebration in Ilderton, after she and Moir won gold in Vancouver.

Kemperman hopes that Virtue will keep chasing her dreams.

Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue catch up with Daniella Czunder, OCT, at signing event in 2009.

“She’s got so much to offer in so many ways, and I’m curious where she’ll end up, especially in her off-ice career. I know it will be something that she’ll be passionate about and go after 100 per cent.”

After Virtue’s first two years of high school, she moved to Detroit for training and found herself crossing the border into Windsor to attend school. She soon met Daniella Czudner, OCT, a teacher who went above and beyond for her students. Virtue was placed in Czudner’s Grade 11 English class at Holy Names HS, and an instant friendship developed that continues today.

“I could relate to her on a different level,” says Virtue. “She was always supportive of me and my schedule. Not every teacher understood the kind of commitment it took to train and compete.”

Czudner not only helped Virtue overcome academic hurdles, she encouraged her to have a healthy social life. “By Grade 11, people have their cliques,” says Virtue. “She [Czudner] showed me the ropes and introduced me to people. By the time I left that school in Windsor, it felt like home.”

The admiration is mutual. Czudner describes Virtue as “the most mature, focused and determined person I’ve ever met — and I’m not just talking about the skating. I remember how she went to the World Junior Championships and made sure she handed in her English essay before she left.”

In just a year they forged many special memories. Virtue and Czudner attended the school play together, travelled to New York City on a field trip —Virtue's first non-skating-related excursion — and even enjoyed a home-cooked meal where Virtue met Czudner’s family.

Virtue’s favorite subject was English, and according to Czudner she was a talented writer. Czudner still has a poem Virtue wrote about the importance of being prepared.

Czudner went to the 2010 Winter Olympics to see Virtue perform. She marvels at how her former student went from being a normal kid to a national celebrity in what seems like a very short period of time.

Virtue’s partner, Scott Moir, has reached the same level of celebrity. And although he has travelled the world and won countless awards for his skating, some of his fondest memories are from his public school days in Ilderton. He attributes this to having great teachers.

“I come from a very small town and went to Oxbow PS, which was very intimate,” says Moir. “I grew up with the same class of 30 kids from kindergarten to Grade 8, so I had a very normal school experience.”

Paul Marshman (left) and Gary Groulx OCT, (right) pose with Moir at Oxbow PS in 2010.

“He had a great personality — it was easy to relate to him,” Moir says. “He taught music, a class that not many of us liked, and made it about the history of rock and roll. It really grabbed our attention. It made school cool, and for Grade 7 students that’s really important. Learning about The Kinks and rock and roll bands was awesome.”

Marshman says that Moir was a hard-working student and an academic talent. “I remember his mother asking during a parent-teacher interview, ‘Is Scotty getting his work done?’ And I said, ‘Alma, he’s the only boy who always has his math finished. I never have to chase him for anything.’ He was dedicated. His parents had instilled in him that he wouldn’t be a skater unless he kept up his school work.”

Grade 8 was an equally important time for Moir, a year of discovery.

“I loved math,” he says. “The academic achievement that I’m most proud of is my Grade 8 math award.”

Grade 8 was also when he met Gary Groulx, OCT, a teacher who has left a lasting impression — they remain friends to this day.

“Mr. Groulx was definitely a huge part of my math award,” says Moir. He taught me that just because my schedule was different it didn’t mean I couldn’t learn and accomplish as much as the other students —a huge lesson that I would take forward into my secondary school education.”

For Groulx, Moir was not only a hard-working, dedicated and focused student but also an inspiring one.

“Scott gave me a necktie for Christmas, and on the back it said, ‘The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.’ I still have that tie and wear it on special occasions,” says Groulx.

Moir also gave Groulx a book of motivational sayings that he continues to use.

“Every week I put one of them on the whiteboard,” says Groulx. “I guess he does have a legacy here; he’s still a part of my classroom.”

It was in a similar classroom, years ago, that Groulx realized what an outgoing and sensitive person Moir really was.

“We had a boy transfer from another school who had some behavioural issues,” says Groulx.

The new student was described as being almost six feet tall and very intimidating.

“I asked that everyone welcome him and make him feel comfortable, but it was Scott who took this upon himself. The student really flourished, and I’m sure part of it was due to the friendships that Scott helped him develop. He and Scott are still the best of friends.”

After winning gold in 2010, Moir went back to Oxbow to speak at an assembly. Groulx was impressed when Moir readily passed his medal around to the kids. “There was no concern. It was typical of how he’s always conducted himself and interacted with everybody.”

It’s clear that in the eyes of their favourite teachers, Virtue and Moir are a class act. Striking a successful balance between athletics and academics is what helped give this gold medal couple their winning edge.