In figure skating, David Wilson is the invisible man. Almost.
You'll never spy his 5-foot-7 frame at a competition -- he doesn't go -- and he's never won a national title at any level.
He works as a choreographer behind the scenes, but is still astonished that anybody would want his work. He's humble in an outrageously endearing way.
However, this season, the 38-year-old Wilson's presence is felt everywhere on the skating scene, especially in Canada, as skaters he has groomed for years are beginning to soar to international heights.
If there was an award for choreographer of the year, he'd surely win it.
Wilson's stable of stars includes: Jeffrey Buttle, silver medalist at the Grand Prix Final in December; Joannie Rochette, bronze medalist at the same event; Canadian women's champion Cynthia Phaneuf; Grand Prix competitor Nicholas Young; up-and-comer Shawn Sawyer; 2004 Junior Grand Prix pairs champions Jessica Dubé and Bryce Davison; former Canadian champions Sébastien Britten and Josée Chouinard (who both became world professional champions); and two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser.
Yet, for every big name on Wilson's roster are scores of little names, young skaters who are not yet part of skating lore. That's how Wilson operates.
He began working with Buttle when the skater was 16, with Phaneuf when she was only nine. He'd be lost without his little ones, Wilson says.
"When they are 13 or 14 years old, you have more chance to get inside their head," he said. "You have more chance to positively affect them, because they have a more innocent view of the world. It's so much fun. And there's less pressure."
Wilson was never as bright an on-ice star as his students. He says he never had the guts to be a competitive skater and quit at 15, but this knowledge makes him a better teacher.
"It makes me really good at dealing with kids that are on the border," Wilson said. "Some of the really talented ones are a little bit fragile. They love performing and competing, but it's not particularly easy.
"The little ones that are machines are not necessarily the ones who are going to be the artists, the ones that shake mountains."
Wilson is starting to shake mountains, but he found his life's calling by accident. After five years of touring with Ice Capades, Wilson and Jean-Pierre Boulais ended up in Montreal at a time when skating clubs there were looking for choreographers.
Boulais had all the connections and he'd taught skating before. Wilson, a native of Nobleton, Ont., had none and had never taught. One of their first clients was Britten, who at the time was ranked third among junior men in Canada.
Wilson had seen Britten several years before at a club show and was astonished at his ability.
"There's almost a hydraulic about the way [Britten]skated," Wilson said. "That's what [1976 Olympic champion]John Curry had. There is this constant resistance, an ebb and a flow that seems to be ordained. It seems like there's a force beyond themselves making it happen."
But the idea of doing choreography for Britten terrified Wilson. Boulais, more confident, told him lean on his Ice Capades experiences.
"I have to say, I really faked it for the longest time," Wilson said. "I couldn't tune in to my own feelings. But I tried like you have no idea. I dug deep. It possessed me."
When Wilson later decided to branch out on his own as a choreographer, Britten went with him and became a Canadian champion in 1995.
As a pro, Britten reigned supreme at the 1998 world professional championships in Jaca, Spain, where he received perfect marks of 10 from all seven judges and standing ovations for his artistic program in defeating world champions and Olympic medalists.
It also was the best thing that could have happened to Wilson's career as a choreographer.
Japanese champion Shin Amano wanted the choreographer who did Britten's programs and sought Wilson out. Coach Michiko Yamada brought the choreographer to Japan to design routines for Midori Ito and Japanese skaters are still using his work.
When Wilson started out on his own, he had perhaps 10 clients. Now, he has scores of them. He has found his true calling.
Many of his students are just beginning to emerge on the world scene. But so is he.