Remembering Alexandra Paul

On August 22, the figure skating community was rocked with the tragic passing of Canadian ice dancer Alexandra Paul who was killed in a car accident in Melancthon Township, Ontario. With partner and future husband Mitch Islam, Paul competed at the 2014 Olympics and two World Championships as well as medaling at three Canadian national championships. The duo retired from competition on December 15, 2016 and were married in September 2021. Their son, Charlie, was born in October 2022. She was 31 when she died and a month shy of her birthday. Outside of skating, Alex attended Oakland University and earned her Juris Doctor degree at the University of Windsor Law School and was employed at Barriston Law. 

Members of the media in figure skating have the opportunity to interview competitors, sometimes on more than one occasion. Team IDC has collated the following editorials from professional journalists to celebrate Alexandra Paul’s contributions to ice dance as well as her kind, friendly and joyful spirit. 

Jacquelyn Thayer, Editor, Two for the Ice
Beginning in 2012, I interviewed Alex and Mitch extensively – on their career and life, on specific programs, and on the general behind-the-scenes work of choreography, coaching, and dance. With a limited budget for travel, I had to be selective about competition attendance, and most events I did attend, whether covering them for or Two for the Ice, or simply as a spectator, included Paul/Islam in the lineup. I strove for impartiality as a journalist, but privately—and probably not surprisingly—I had a favorite team.

What I can say purely as a journalist is that I deeply appreciated Alex’s graciousness in always being up for an interview or just a chat behind the scenes. Through those conversations, I was privy to Mitch’s pride in her accomplishments and their love for one another. She offered thoughtful insights into the work they did and demonstrated an intelligent understanding of movement and dance, befitting her uniquely balletic presence on the ice. But beyond that, I was impressed by her sense of perspective. Alex was sensible about the proper place of skating within life, grateful for the extraordinary gifts it had given her while keenly aware of the importance of building a life beyond competition.

When I first watched Alex and Mitch in 2010, it was their elegance and musicality that drew me in, but getting to know the people behind the work actually deepened my respect and appreciation. The grace that Alex brought to the ice was something she also carried through life.

Paul & Islam (left) won the silver medal at the 2010 World Junior Championships.

Hiro Yoshida, Journalist, Europe On Ice
The first time I saw Alexandra Paul skate was when she and Mitchell Islam competed at the 2010 World Junior Championships in The Hague, The Netherlands. That season the ice dance field was truly rich in talent. Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov created quite a buzz around their “Schindler’s List” free dance and the title. There was also the promising American team Maia and Alex Shibutani who in the end finished just off the podium. Notably, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron did not advance beyond the Original Dance. Piper Gilles and Zachary Donohue placed ninth representing the USA. Gilles would soon enter a partnership with Paul Poirier to become a domestic rival for Paul and Islam in Canada.

Despite having only teamed up the year before, I remember thinking how refined, elegant, and perfectly matched Paul and Islam were. Like them, it was also my first time to attend Junior Worlds and I recall the press officer really encouraging us to ask questions at the post-competition press conferences due to the small number of media in attendance (even with Yuzuru Hanyu competing!). I asked what I thought was a fairly straightforward question of the medal winning teams about the themes of their respective free dances. It is a very daunting experience sitting in front of a room of people hanging on your every word and I think Alexandra was feeling a bit overcome with having just won a silver medal. She replied to my question that she and Mitchell were “just dancing around” which was true, but I could see that she felt a little unused to being put in this situation. I regretted not giving her an easier to answer question.

Fast forward to September 2013. I was returning home from the Nebelhorn Trophy, the first big international event of that season. While in the queue at Memmingen Airport, I was approached by a very nice Canadian couple who I found out had also attended the competition. I soon discovered that they were Alexandra’s mother and father Anne and Gordon. The reason they were travelling from a small regional German airport to Dublin was because another of their daughters was studying at university in Ireland at the time. I had a great conversation with them the whole flight back about skating and living in Ireland. Towards the end of the journey, I told them about the anecdote from the Junior Worlds press conference and to my surprise Alexandra’s parents knew about it! From what I could tell it had become something of an in-joke within their family. It made me feel less guilty.

Before parting ways with Alexandra’s parents at Dublin Airport, I had asked them to wish Alexandra and Mitchell good luck for the season. It turned out to be a very successful few months for the team as they bagged one of the three coveted spots on the Canadian Olympic team for the Sochi Olympics. A month after the Olympics, I was standing in the mixed zone at the World Championships in Saitama, Japan when Alexandra came up to me and said, “I know who you are! I have heard a lot of things about you from my mother!” I was so impressed with how poised and mature she had become in such a short space of time. Even in the middle of a very high-pressure competition, she showed her warm personality and how skilful she was at making connections with other people.

Our paths unfortunately did not cross again after that and two seasons later she and Mitchell decided to retire from competitive skating. Although we did not meet in person, from time to time I would see updates that showed she was thriving in her new life. Sadly, her bright future has been cut far too short. My thoughts are with her family and friends at this very difficult time, especially her on and off ice partner Mitchell. I cannot imagine the unbearable grief they must all be feeling. It breaks my heart to think that Alexandra will never see Charlie achieve all those important moments in life that any mother wishes to experience. For now, I hope Mitchell and Alexandra’s family find some solace in the fact that she touched so many lives in the skating community in such a positive way while she was still here with us.

Melanie Heaney, Managing Editor and Photographer,

To the best of my recollection, I photographed Alex & Mitch’s first competition as a team. It’s one of the things that keeps coming to mind as I have tried to process the tragic news. After about a week, I finally managed to look up some results and photos that seemed to confirm my vague memory; 2009 Minto Summer Skate was probably the first season of the competition for Canadian skaters, and I had photographed the Junior Free Dance and the Junior Compulsory Dance, the Argentine Tango. I hadn’t needed the photo gallery to jog my memory for that factoid; I still have a vivid picture in my mind of the photo I published of their Argentine, skating feet tracking fairly close together for a new team, free legs extended, Alex wearing the first of a very long series of perfect dresses with billowy skirts.

The news of their partnership in early 2009 came as a bit of a shock, as Alex had just won the bronze medal at the 2009 Canadian Championships in the junior division. Mitch had been out of competition for a while; his previous partner had health concerns that forced her to leave training. I had liked both skaters with their previous partners, so I wasn’t sure how to feel about the new team and tried to view their first performance from a blank slate. I was happy with what I saw at that first Minto and looked forward to how they would progress.

They fared well in their JGP assignments that fall, but didn’t win any medals, and I don’t think most of the rest of the skating world expected them to rocket up the standings later that season. But I was lucky enough to see them at the 2010 Canadian Championships, the only time since I’ve been attending Canadians that the juniors were sent off to compete at the smaller, secondary venue for all segments of the competition. At the Western Fair arena in London, Ont., a small crowd and a tiny handful of photographers and journalists got to see them dominate the field en route to a Canadian junior title. They won by nearly 25 points, and I sent word back to my ice dance friends in the States: watch out for Alex & Mitch at Junior Worlds. Two months later, they won the World Junior silver medal, even building upon their score from Canadians.

The freshly-minted Olympic champions, Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir, were off the ice in the fall of 2010, leaving some room for younger teams to make their mark at 2010 Skate Canada International. Most expected 2010 Olympians Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier to make the biggest splash, and they did end up winning the event, but Alex & Mitch stole the crowd on Sunday afternoon with their second-place free dance set to “As Time Goes By.”

At events in the late 2000s and early 2010s, Skate Canada often had one final event on Sunday afternoon, and more often than not, it seemed to be the free dance. This was the case at 2010 Skate Canada, so the final morning practice of the event went to the dancers. I’d already photographed the free dances once at an earlier practice, and I would photograph them again later than afternoon, so at the urging of my photo editor and mentor, I settled into a front-row seat on the opposite side from the judges, to look for new perspectives.

Alex & Mitch had already turned heads with the first run-through of their free dance at an earlier practice, but they had worn black practice gear. At Sunday morning practice, they were wearing their free dance costumes. I was photographing their run-through when Mitch dropped to one knee right in front of me and Alex dipped back, her face up and Mitch’s face bent toward hers. I captured a few frames and stopped immediately to check my camera’s screen, a habit I hadn’t broken yet at that point. It was a nearly perfect shot, in my opinion, and certainly one of the best skating photos I had ever taken up until that point. I knew it. I’d cut off Mitch’s back foot, but everything else was in the frame, including Alex’s graceful balletic hand, another perfect billowy skirt. The shot captured the essence of their program, their connection, their partnership. Since it was taken from the “wrong” side, I didn’t see this moment captured in the same way by other photographers during the season, and I felt so lucky to have found this moment. For years, this shot was what came to mind any time someone mentioned them.

It was the image that came to mind the second that I read the awful news, several messages arriving all at once on my phone. It’s how I will always remember Alex—poised, graceful, and always with a quiet strength.

Over the years, I was in the arena for many of Alex & Mitch’s competitions. You can learn a lot about someone’s true personality in the way that they face defeat. More than once, I saw them miss the mark on what they wanted to achieve, whether in terms of execution or placements or both. Alex was always so genuine and easy to talk with, even when things didn’t go as planned. Their competitive career lined up with an unpredictable time in Canadian ice dance. The pecking order changed from year to year in a way that doesn’t always happen in ice dance, and Alex & Mitch were always resilient and gracious, both in triumph and in disappointment. Everyone seemed to genuinely like them, from the younger athletes that looked up to them to their closest rivals.

Alex was in the stands with baby Charlie at Skate Canada last fall; I think he was only a few weeks old. Although she’d opted for a career outside of the sport, she stayed connected through her friends and through Mitch’s new career, taking over the ice dance program at Mariposa. She worked a bit with the teams that Mitch coached, and she was again in the arena at the Canadian Championships last January. I was so excited to meet Charlie, and we chatted about mom stuff—the impending doom over the sleep regression that hadn’t shown up yet, baby carriers, milestones. My heart breaks that she won’t be there for all of Charlie’s milestones still to come.

Bits and pieces from their best programs and performances keep playing in my head, memories that I hadn’t accessed in a few years. Beyond the “As Time Goes By” FD, I keep thinking of the 2013-14 FD to “Dance with Me Wallis,” the short dance at 2016 Canadians, “In Your Eyes” – both the gala version and the free dance it later became, and one particular FD practice from 2013 Canadians. I haven’t been able to pull up any of these on YouTube, though. The sadness is too fresh, too raw. I feel so much sorrow and grief for all those who really knew her, who love her, and will continue to love her. I hope they can find peace and, someday, even hope in their memories of her. I know her her family and friends are forever changed because they have known her, and that her lovely spirit will live on in them.