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beverley smith

The Olympic ice dancing champions came only to watch, wistfully, from the sidelines at Skate Canada, wishing they were there to battle it out on the ice.

Instead of twizzling and stroking and dazzling the crowd with footwork, Tessa Virtue is measuring her steps, while partner Scott Moir is nursing a cold and skating alone.

Virtue underwent a second session of surgery on Oct. 5 with Dr. Kevin Willits in London, Ont., to release the tension in two overworked soft-tissue compartments in her legs, a repeat of surgery that took them out of most of the 2008-2009 season.

They had to withdraw from Skate Canada and it's rather unlikely that they'll be back in time to contest their other Grand Prix in Paris Nov. 25 to 28. Virtue's health is their highest priority and Moir admits that perhaps last time, they put themselves under too tough a deadline to get back to the 2009 world championships.

Surgery back in 2008 released the compartments at the front of her shins, but gradually, the pain returned, and Virtue tried to shrug it off, not even admitting to herself that it was back. "I thought, if I think I'm okay, if I think I'm healthy, then maybe I will be," she said. "That just wasn't the case."

She was never really pain free. And it got to the point that just to walk for 10 minutes became a struggle. "At that point, it's not just about skating," she said. "It's about lifestyle."

At the Olympics, she had to manage her pain so specifically, that Skate Canada team physician Dr. Julia Alleyne would scout out the Olympic village, telling her that the cafeteria was only a three-minute walk from Virtue's room. Virtue could manage that.

After her initial surgery, Virtue said she felt better in the sense that she could get through her programs further before feeling pain. In those days, that was success to her.

And she didn't realize how much of a toll it was taking on her to deny the pain and block it out. "I wasn't telling myself that I was in pain," she said. "I wasn't telling anyone else."

Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier, also at the Olympics and the world championships, say they had no idea that Virtue was in pain.

Now, after the second surgery to release the pressure on the back of her legs, the calves - which began to give her trouble after the first surgery - Virtue says she feels a sense or relief and hope that for once and all, her problems will be resolved, not only for skating, but for the rest of her life.

Virtue ditched her crutches last week, is undergoing physiotherapy and feeling fine. "Of course, it's hard to know until I'm back on the ice and doing what it was that brought on the pain in the first place," she said.

And she is further along the road to recovery than she was after her first surgery. At this time two years ago, she was still in bed. Now, she's walking on her own, although restricting her steps for now.

As for Moir, he had his own little issues. When Virtue had her surgery, he took a week off. "I was pretty tired and we had a very long summer," he said. He had some injuries to tend to, like a sore back that needed some time and care.

They don't know how long it will take to get back on the ice. They're not putting a time line on it. But Virtue is optimistic that her pain issues are behind her.