It’s impossible to say who is reaching out a helping hand most to the other: Lubov Iliushechkina, the 23-year-old Russian who hasn’t competed for two years? Or Dylan Moscovitch, who found himself pushing 30 and suddenly without a world-calibre partner, after Kirsten Moore-Towers decided to leave the duo for a two-quadrennial future?
Together Iliushechkina and Moscovitch are finding second chances, against all odds.
Firstly, Moscovitch was rather skeptical that he would continue skating at all. “I was reeling a bit in the whole upheaval in my life,” he said. “I wasn’t sure I would be able to get back up at the same level in the amount of time I had left in the sport.”
Still, he needed to find out for himself, try out with a few partners. If it worked out, awesome, and if it didn’t, he was going out on his own terms. He arranged a tryout in May of 2014 with Iliushechkina in Detroit, because she had a U.S. visa, and not a Canadian one. And fly she did, all the way from Russia for the tryout with Moscovitch, who she had competed against from time to time, but didn’t know personally. She was to stay there for a week.
Everything clicked quickly. Right away, off the ice, they were doing complicated lifts. On their second day, they did throw triples, even though Iliushechkina hadn’t done any in two years. They both cancelled their flights home and stayed, training in Detroit without a coach, until Iliushechkina got a Canadian visa to enter the country. Moscovitch cancelled all of his other tryouts.
Then they had to deal with whether or not Russia would release Iliushechkina to skate for Canada. Immediately after her promising partnership with Nodari Maisuradze had dissolved, she had tried to hook up with Yannick Kocon and skate for France. But Russia would not release her and the team never competed internationally.
Would Russia release her now? By October, the release came. Moscovitch felt a weight come off his shoulders and couldn’t imagine the weight that had been on his new partner’s. “For me, it took three years,” Iliushechkina said. “Finally, I’m happy. I want to say great things to Russian federation. I know their investment in my career was huge. I appreciate that. But events happened. I could not skate for Russia any more. I am sorry for that. I’m happy that they understood my situation and let me go.”
With Maisuradze, she had won the 2009 world junior championships, the 2011 World Universiade, and the 2010 Skate Canada International in Kingston, Ont., their first Grand Prix title. Her visit to Kingston was an important turning point in her life. There, she fell in love with Canada. And there, fittingly enough, she will compete with Moscovitch at the Canadian skating championships in January.
“Representing Canada is very important to me because Canada was always a country of my dreams,” she said. “When I finally got here [this year], I could not believe it was the truth. I feel it’s my place. I feel it very comfortable and warm and I wanted to open myself, to smile. Everybody was very polite and friendly.” She had told Moscovitch that eventually, she had planned to move to Canada to live.
Bonus: getting a Canadian pair partner. “I’m happy skating with Dylan because he is a wonderful partner and a very nice person,” she said. “I can tell him everything and I’m sure I will have good advice from him. He’s very professional.”
Besides that, Moscovitch has sacrificed everything for their partnership, financially and emotionally, gambling on something that at first, seemed so uncertain. He had bought a house in Waterloo, along with Brittany Jones and Josh Reagan, when he was skating with Moore-Towers. Four months later, he had to get out of it, and move in with his mother in Toronto for a time. Now he’s sharing an apartment with a brother.
More than that, Moscovitch is financing the whole enterprise himself. He’s lost some funding. Iliushechkina has no funding and in fact, lived in France for nine months with no funding. She is still not eligible for any Canadian government carding yet, either. “I’m kind of funding both of us,” he said. “I’m basically investing all of my savings. Everything I’ve earned.”
Part of his motivation comes from the tiny five-foot tall Iliushechkina herself. “It’s knowing how hard she works and how bad she wants it and how much she has had to go through,” Moscovitch said. “Part of me wants it to happen for us, but also for her. I think she really deserves it. She’s got a champion’s mind. I think she’s got a lot of great things to offer the sport.”
Firstly, she’s very flexible – offering up new possibilities in pair moves for Moscovitch (“Things I didn’t think were humanly possible, she does,” he said) – she’s analytical and she’s very creative. “I feel like she’s just starting to feel like she has input, and so she’s bursting with ideas,” he said.
They’ve competed at Oktoberfest in Barrie, Ont., in October, at the Central Ontario Skating sectional championships in Georgetown in early November (Moscovitch hasn’t skated at a COS event in seven years) and are competing this weekend – to get their minimum international points – at the Warsaw Cup, a senior B international event in Poland. Getting minimum scores would allow them to compete at the Four Continents Championships and world championships later this season.
Both of their programs, choreographed by David Wilson, tell their story. They relate to the vocals of Michael Buble’s “Feeling Good” for the short program. (“Oh freedom is mine/And I know how I feel/ It’s a new dawn/It’s a new day/It’s a new life.”
Their free? Of course, it’s to “From Russia with Love.” Strangely enough, “lubov” in Russian means “love.”
“Even after a few short months, she’s grown by leaps and bounds and she’s hungry for the sport and hungry to learn,” Moscovitch said. “We get along very well and I see good things for us.”