OTHER SIDE OF THE SPORT

Olympian Vic­to­ria Moors finds her way back to the gym, coach­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of gym­nasts

Grand Magazine - - CONTENTS - BY DAWN MATHE­SON PHO­TOG­RA­PHY ALUSHA TOWNSEND

The post-Olympic jour­ney of Cam­bridge gym­nast Vic­to­ria Moors is the sub­ject of our cover story. She was pho­tographed at Ar­row Lofts in Kitch­ener by Alisha Townsend. Moors wears a cot­ton sleeve­less blouse by art point, $415. See Where to Get It, page 126

Vic­to­ria Moors was on top of the world. The buzz about her ath­letic po­ten­tial, which had started to build at age 12, hit a fever pitch at age 15. She was the dar­ling of the his­tory-mak­ing Cana­dian gym­nas­tics team, rub­bing el­bows with roy­alty and look­ing ahead to the next Olympics.

And then the fire went out. She stopped se­ri­ously train­ing when she was 17, and then of­fi­cially called it quits at age 18 be­fore fad­ing from the lime­light.

When your life is “gym­nas­tics, sleep, gym­nas­tics, re­peat,” what hap­pens when ‘gym­nas­tics’ is re­moved from the rou­tine?

Moors says she went through a stage where she didn’t want to have any­thing to do with the sport that had been part of her life since she was three years old.

“I felt like peo­ple weren’t in­ter­ested in me, that I had no value now that I’m not Vic­to­ria the Olympic gym­nast. And I felt that in my­self.”

But, in her ef­forts to dis­cover a new iden­tity, the path she chose to walk has looped around and brought her back to the start. The 20-year-old finds her­self spend­ing more hours in the gym as a coach than she did when she was a com­peti­tor.

At Dy­namo Gym­nas­tics in Cam­bridge, a fa­cil­ity owned by her par­ents and her for­mer coach, Moors is help­ing guide the next gen­er­a­tion of po­ten­tial na­tional team mem­bers.

And she says she is lov­ing ev­ery minute of it.

Vic­to­ria Moors spent the day with the Grand fash­ion team in a pent­house condo at Ar­row Lofts on Benton Street in Kitch­ener. Here, she wears a linen sack dress with rope neck­line de­tail, Sarah Pacini, $650. WHERE TO GET IT: PAGE 126

From 2009 to 2014, Moors was one of the most watched promis­ing young gym­nasts in the world. Google her and you’ll find hun­dreds of ar­ti­cles, YouTube videos, tweets and thou­sands of ador­ing followers cheer­ing her on.

“The Lamb Turns into a Lion” stated the Cam­bridge Times head­line in June of 2009 when Moors, then a 12-year-old at Cam­bridge Kips gym­nas­tics club, launched into the na­tional stream by win­ning the Cana­dian novice ti­tle.

With more na­tional wins to fol­low, Gym­nas­tics Canada was chomp­ing at the bit, push­ing for in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence, send­ing Moors around the world — Puerto Rico, France and Ja­pan — all in prepa­ra­tion for an Olympic run in Lon­don, when she would fi­nally be of age to com­pete for Canada. Gym­nasts must at least be turn­ing

16 within the cal­en­dar year of the Games in order to com­pete in se­nior-level events at the Olympics.

“Moors Gets the Royal Treat­ment” was the head­line in the Water­loo Re­gion Record in a re­port from Lon­don in 2012 after Moors, on an Olympic high, held court with Prince Harry dur­ing his visit to Canada Olympic House in Trafal­gar Square.

The same re­port de­tailed how pop­u­lar she had be­come: “U.S. col­leges are court­ing her to sign on for schol­ar­ships, when high school grad­u­a­tion is still two years away. The Twit­ter­verse has de­vel­oped a crush . . . many of them breath­lessly gush­ing about their beloved ‘Tori.’ ”

Moors, at the time a Grade 10 Bishop Mac­donell Catholic High School stu­dent in Guelph, en­rolled in an in­de­pen­dent study pro­gram de­signed for elite ath­letes, was train­ing more than 30 hours a week, with week­ends spent at com­pe­ti­tions.

Then came “the Moors,” the dou­bletwist­ing, dou­ble-lay­out floor ma­noeu­vre, a move so dif­fi­cult to per­form that the in­ter­na­tional gym­nas­tics fed­er­a­tion had to give it a new rat­ing in the guide­book for judges. Ba­si­cally, she broke the code.

On the first day of the 2013 world cham­pi­onships in An­twerp, Bel­gium, Moors at­tempted the dangerous flip but landed with hands down, in­jur­ing her an­kle. One day later, she landed it.

“In just two days, I had my worst low and my big­gest high,” says Moors. “Be­cause I fell the first time, it was even sweeter to land it the sec­ond day.”

This was the sec­ond time the five-foot­tall su­per­star had landed a new move in com­pe­ti­tion. The first move to be named after Moors was achieved com­pet­ing on the bars at the Lon­don Olympics in 2012.

The mod­est Moors re­counts: “That only hap­pened be­cause I was terrified of the back dis­mount. I would close my eyes and try not to pee my pants.”

Her coach, Elvira Saadi, re­al­ized Moors’ fear wouldn’t let up so they got “cre­ative”

and built an even more dif­fi­cult dis­mount off bars never done be­fore.

So with the gym­nas­tics world won­der­ing what would come next, where Moors could pos­si­bly take the Olympic team in Rio in 2016, she shocked her followers in the spring of 2015 with an In­sta­gram post an­nounc­ing her re­tire­ment.

She wrote that her gym­nas­tics ca­reer had been a long haul, a tough road with chal­lenges she couldn’t over­come. She had learned a lot about life and made life­long friends.

“This has been one of the tough­est de­ci­sions that I’ve had to make, but I have to look out for my­self and do what’s best for me,” she wrote.

The post went vi­ral. Spec­u­la­tion as to what re­ally went down ran amok . . . but just for a few weeks, then noth­ing. Moors’ time in the lime­light was over. “We usu­ally go un­der the radar,” Moors says without bit­ter­ness, re­fer­ring to the end of her stint as me­dia dar­ling. “Once you’re

out of the spot­light, ath­letes stop be­ing talked about. Sports suck that way. If you aren’t first, you’re last.” So what hap­pened? Sim­ply put, she was done. “One morn­ing I was try­ing to do some­thing here at Dy­namo, and I phys­i­cally couldn’t do it. Like, it was a sim­ple en­durance ex­er­cise on bars. I was pissed so I went home.”

Moors says she fig­ured it just wasn’t her day. So, she re­turned to the gym again on a dif­fer­ent day, and then an­other, and an­other. She took a two-month break, and still, the fire wasn’t there.

“Even Elvira said there was noth­ing else I could do in the sport. . . . I’d al­ready ac­com­plished so much,” says Moors. “I mean, Elvira can make a moun­tain move, and I wasn’t mov­ing.”

Moors says she has al­ways grap­pled with her mind­set. She is fiercely stub­born, which can work both in her favour and against her.

“Make sure your worst en­emy doesn’t live be­tween your two ears” is the quote she re­cently had tat­tooed down the length of her spine. “That is my daily chal­lenge,” she says. Moors has a deep con­nec­tion with Saadi, who is a two-time Olympic gold medal­list and In­ter­na­tional Gym­nas­tics Hall of Fame in­ductee. Moors refers to her as her “sec­ond mom,” and one of her other tat­toos bears wit­ness to their bond: “Strong Love,” writ­ten in Saadi’s na­tive lan­guage, Rus­sian, is inked on Moors’ hip.

“She is very tough on me . . . be­cause she knew what I was ca­pa­ble of,” Moors says. “And she al­ways tells me she loves me.”

When she re­tired, with a year of high school still to fin­ish, Moors had to fig­ure out life without coaches, nu­tri­tion­ists, os­teopaths and a rou­tine that packed in train­ing, ex­er­cis­ing, eat­ing and sleep­ing to pre­pare for com­pe­ti­tions around the world.

“To be blunt, I sat on my ass for a while.”

Who could blame her? Cer­tainly not her par­ents.

“Vic­to­ria doesn’t owe any­one any­thing,” says Moors’ mother, Lisa Rut­ledge. “She had ac­com­plished more by the time she was 17 than most do in a life­time of sport.”

Rut­ledge says she felt a sense of re­lief once her daugh­ter had made her exit de­ci­sion.

“Com­pet­i­tive sports take a big toll on a fam­ily. It is a life, not just a sport,” says Rut­ledge. “Our fam­ily couldn’t go on va­ca­tions — ath­letes lose muscles quickly, they need to keep train­ing — and there were no birth­day par­ties or things like that.”

Rut­ledge says she and her hus­band, Chris Moors, made a con­certed ef­fort when Vic­to­ria was a com­peti­tor to not in­ter­fere with their daugh­ter and her coach, in whom they had com­plete trust.

“We are not qual­i­fied to be coach­ing her. . . . We sit in the stands and cheer and cry and cel­e­brate. That is our role: par­ents only.”

How­ever, there is no deny­ing the ca­reers of the par­ents were ex­tremely in­flu­enced by their daugh­ter’s early suc­cess as they teamed up with Saadi in 2011 to open Dy­namo, a 23,000-square-foot fa­cil­ity near High­way 401 and Town­line Road in Cam­bridge.

And the re­tire­ment of Vic­to­ria did not bring an end to the fam­ily’s days on the com­pe­ti­tion cir­cuit. Vic­to­ria’s sis­ter, Brook­lyn, 16, is on the se­nior na­tional team.

After re­tir­ing, with no in­ter­est in post­sec­ondary school­ing, Moors says she felt weak and vul­ner­a­ble, sur­pris­ing for some­one who is so often de­scribed as a fear­less, de­ter­mined in­di­vid­ual.

“It’s kind of all a blur. I don’t even re­mem­ber what hap­pened that first year.”

Just to make a few ex­tra dol­lars while she “fig­ured things out,” Moors says she

started to help out at her par­ents’ gym.

“I never wanted to coach. That was like not even a Plan B or Plan C. I had no plans.”

But Moors hadn’t ex­pected how her lit­tle stu­dents would make her feel. She started post­ing about them on In­sta­gram. One photo of six girls stand­ing mat-side car­ried the cap­tion: “What goof­balls ... so glad I get to spend my Fri­day night with my lil princesses.”

Moors be­gan to get high from gym­nas­tics again, in a very dif­fer­ent way.

“I have a real soft spot for my girls now. I feel so happy see­ing them happy with their ac­com­plish­ments,” says Moors, back in the gym for more than eight hours a day. Some days she spends even more time on the mat than when she was in train­ing her­self.

Moors de­scribes coach­ing as akin to art, sculpt­ing a gym­nast, not just phys­i­cally but men­tally.

“I’m train­ing my girls to be brave,” says Moors, who says she is learn­ing the skills of coach­ing ev­ery day. She de­scribes how she used to keep the lit­tle ones safe by pre­vent­ing them from jump­ing off high blocks. “Now I put down a squishy mat and say ‘Go for it.’”

“Vic­to­ria was such a bouncy, fear­less freespir­ited kid. She did all these phys­i­cal moves al­most nat­u­rally,” her mom re­calls. “She didn’t re­ally even quite un­der­stand how she was do­ing them when she was so lit­tle.”

Coach Saadi, who rec­og­nized Moors’ tal­ent early on, de­scribed Moors as cat-like, a gym­nast who al­ways knew where she was in the air.

Now Moors is learn­ing the de­vel­op­ment of the sport all over, from the other side: teach­ing skills and de­ter­mi­na­tion, lo­gis­tics of the flips and how to learn.

“It’s amaz­ing for us to watch. It’s like she is liv­ing through a sec­ond child­hood in the gym,” Rut­ledge says. “And to see her and Elvira to­gether again like this, grooming her now as a coach.”

Rut­ledge re­counts Saadi say­ing that ev­ery­thing she knows about gym­nas­tics is al­ready in­side Vic­to­ria’s head. She doesn’t have to ex­plain her­self, mak­ing Moors an ideal stu­dent un­der Saadi in the se­nior com­pet­i­tive class.

On­line fans are re­turn­ing for Moors, this time in love with her as a coach. One of Moors’ own “goof­balls,” Ash­leigh O’Grady, 6, is one of them. The Guelph girl spends nine hours a week train­ing with Moors then Googles her coach on Satur­day morn­ings, search­ing YouTube for rou­tines.

“She’s an amaz­ing in­spi­ra­tion,” O’Grady’s mom, Tara, says of Moors.

“And she’s re­ally nice,” adds Ash­leigh. Tara says they used to watch Moors train for the Olympics when Ash­leigh first started at the gym.

“Since she’s done it her­self, Vic­to­ria makes get­ting to the Olympics seem at­tain­able for our girls.”

And Moors has two tat­toos that act as vis­i­ble re­minders. Her very first tat­too — the five rings of the Olympics — is inked on the in­side of her left fore­arm. And she re­cently added, to the in­side of her right an­kle, the judges’ scor­ing sym­bol that de­picts the floor move named after her.

The close friend­ships Moors made as a gym­nast have en­dured her de­par­ture from com­pe­ti­tion. Olympian El­lie Black, who placed fifth in Rio in the women’s in­di­vid­ual all-around for the coun­try’s best ever Olympic result in the event, is still Moors’ best friend. They rep­re­sented Canada to­gether in Lon­don in 2012.

Black says Moors is like a sis­ter — a sis­ter who loves cats and who knows how to make her laugh.

“I hap­pily sup­ported Vic­to­ria with her choice to re­tire from gym­nas­tics. The most im­por­tant thing for me was Vic­to­ria be­ing happy,” Black says. “She ac­com­plished so much as an ath­lete that she can be very proud of for the rest of her life. Now she can in­spire and pass on her knowl­edge, ex­pe­ri­ence and pas­sion with the next gen­er­a­tion of gym­nasts as a coach.”

Moors also finds her­self in a po­si­tion to coach friends at the end of their ca­reers. She re­cently took a hol­i­day to help an­other fel­low gym­nast, a friend who is in the same predica­ment Moors found her­self in two years ago: an abrupt end to ev­ery­thing she knew — her daily life, her iden­tity as a gym­nast, her rep­u­ta­tion.

Moors went to just be there for her, to help her get through the “men­tal stuff.”

“There is noth­ing that I can do to change her view of life right now,” Moors says. “All I could say is ‘life is a bitch.’ She has to go through it and she will, and she’ll come out of it, but right now life for her is hell.”

Moors has made it through. She has even dis­cov­ered some­thing called ‘hob­bies.’ She is sav­ing up money from her coach­ing for a record player — and maybe an easel, too. On Satur­day nights she en­joys a glass of wine and colours in her adult colour­ing book. One day, she plans to travel more, and not for sport only.

“I’m not say­ing I prom­ise I’ll work at Dy­namo for the rest of my life,” Moors says, “but ac­tu­ally I kind of want to . . . and Elvira is get­ting me there.”

At Dy­namo Gym­nas­tics in Cam­bridge, Vic­to­ria Moors now helps guide the next gen­er­a­tion of ath­letes. Tak­ing a break from train­ing to pose with their coach are Adele Parker, top left, and Kayssie Ae­ber­sold, top right. In front, from the left, Is­abella Mor­eira, Ash­leigh O’Grady, Sier­rah Ki­nart, El­lie Pa­gan and Pey­ton Grosveld. The girls range in age from six to eight.

VIR­GINIA MAYO, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Vic­to­ria Moors lands one of the moves named after her dur­ing the floor ex­er­cise com­pe­ti­tion at the 2013 world cham­pi­onships.

FIONA HAN­SON, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Prince Harry chats with the Moors fam­ily while vis­it­ing Canada Olympic House dur­ing the 2012 Olympic Games in Lon­don.

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