They don't come any tougher than Tessa Virtue.
Hardly a day or night went by where her legs weren't in pain as she and Scott Moir ice danced to Olympic gold glory at Vancouver in February.
"It was pretty constant,"†the 21-year-old Londoner said Friday en route to Kingston to watch Skate Canada International this weekend. "Even just walking for 10-15 minutes, I'd feel it. I knew something was wrong but I really just tried to deny the pain, even to myself.
"It wasn't really diagnosed. I just tried to shut it out and skate."
Earlier this month, Virtue underwent surgery in London for the second time in three years related to chronic exertional compartment syndrome in her shins and calves.
Going under the knife again has put her skating season in jeopardy. However, the stakes aren't nearly as high as they were in the year leading up to the Olympics.
"I'm not looking that far ahead (to 2011 nationals in Victoria, B.C., or worlds in Nagano, Japan. March 21-27),"†Virtue said. "Right now, I'm looking forward to feeling healthy again. That's my goal, to take some time and heal. It's basically been go-go-go since we won. We had a little bit of time off but not a lot so this might end up turning into a blessing in disguise."
Virtue's original surgery in 2008 allowed her to continue competing at the highest level. This most recent one was to reduce the lingering pain she felt as a result of the compartment syndrome.
"The first one, because of the timing, I tried to get back as soon as I could,"†she said. "I didn't want to disappoint anyone. This time, it's a bit of a different situation."
The next Olympics aren't until 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
Her partner Moir, the 23-year-old Ilderton native, was at Virtue's bedside when she woke up in the hospital recovery room.
"It was great to see him there,"†she said. "When you're leaving the hospital, it's nice to have someone there who's used to lifting you."
Kevin Willits, a Fowler-Kennedy Clinic surgeon, performed both of Virtue's surgery. He's also a Western Mustangs football assistant coach.
"The Mustangs football team won the weekend before my surgery,"†Virtue said, "so I felt like he was going into the surgery in a good mood, which I felt good about."
Moir took a week off before returning to solo training at the Arctic Figure Skating Club in Canton, Mich., in case the couple returns to action later in the season.
"I know he's doing a lot of off-ice training but I don't know if he is (skating with a hockey stick or sandbag as a partner like last time),"†Virtue said with a laugh. "I don't want to know."
This summer, Virtue and Moir were committed to launching a new campaign with fresh programs and defending their world title. But Virtue's pain continued through a pre-season high-performance camp at Mississauga in September and Skate Canada's new chief medical officer Marni Wesner ordered additional tests.
Increased pressure levels in her calves from the compartment syndrome were discovered. The decision was made to undergo surgery now rather than following this season.
"I'm still taking classes at University of Windsor so it's allowed me to focus more on that,"†she said, "and I'm going to cheer on the rest of the Canadian skaters. I'm still working hard to get healthy. I just had a three-and-a-half hour session at Fowler-Kennedy and with my physical therapist (Mary Brannagan) in Windsor, I'm in really good hands."
Virtue and Moir will continue to engage their off-ice commitments.
The duo has a Steve Milton-penned book set to launch called "Tessa and Scott: Our Journey from Childhood to Gold."
"It was really special for Scott and I to sit down and re-live a lot of the things we went through that we never really had a chance to discuss even with ourselves,"†she said. "It was a fun experience."