When Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir parted ways in 2014, they didn’t expect to ever skate together again. As a pairs team, based at the Skating Club of Boston, they won two U.S. national titles (2013-14) and an Olympic bronze team medal in 2014. But despite their success, Castelli and Shnapir didn’t always get along well. So they ended their partnership after the Sochi Olympics and went their separate ways.
Now, seven years later, Castelli and Shnapir are unexpectedly teaming up again to perform at A Night of Stars, a benefit show in the Boston area to raise funds for cancer research. The show takes place on Saturday, Dec. 4, with all proceeds going to the Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation, Mass General Brigham, and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. A Night of Stars is also the Grand Opening Celebration for the Skating Club of Boston’s new facility in Norwood, MA, completed in 2020.
Much has happened for Castelli and Shnapir since 2014. They said that many factors led to their reunion–which has been almost two years in the making.
After their 2014 split, Castelli moved to Montreal to skate with Mervin Tran for four seasons. Shnapir competed with DeeDee Leng for one year (training at the Skating Club of Boston), then retired due to injuries. After his retirement, Shnapir began coaching full-time at the Club. He finds coaching to be rewarding–and educational.
“I’ve learned more about skating in the five or six years that I’ve been coaching full-time than I ever did as a skater,” Shnapir remarked. “Every aspect of the sport is revealed when you’re on the other side of the boards. When you’re skating, you really just have your job to do, and that’s it. Everything else is taken care of for you. But when you start coaching, you have to do the organization, the scheduling, the logistics, the communication. It’s an exciting challenge to work with kids of different backgrounds and ages and learn the best ways to communicate and help guide them.”
Shnapir coaches primarily singles skaters, although he helps out occasionally with coaching pairs teams. “I’m constantly trying to develop pairs teams. It’s a challenge, always, as everyone knows,” said Shnapir.
Castelli, meanwhile, returned to her native Rhode Island in mid-2018 after her partnership with Tran ended. Soon, she joined the Skating Club of Boston as a staff coach. With Castelli and Shnapir now coaching under the same roof, they found that their relationship was quite different than during their competitive days.
“Honestly, I think we’re friendlier than ever now,” Castelli said. “We talk a lot more now than we actually did [before]. I think Simon and I have matured over the past couple of years.”
“It’s no secret that we had our struggles when we skated together competitively. We don’t have to beat around the bush; that’s pretty common knowledge,” Shnapir remarked. “But, that was seven years ago. We’ve both grown up. We’re in our thirties; we’re living our lives. I think we both have realized that we’re going to be connected to each other for the rest of our lives, because of what we accomplished together. So let’s put aside all the petty nonsense and move on and grow. Like Marissa said, we get along great now. We work with some skaters together. We’ve evolved.”
In early 2020, Castelli and Shnapir took the first step to a reunion by agreeing to appear as guest stars in the Skating Club of Boston’s Ice Chips show, planned for April 2020.
“It was right before covid-19 [hit],” Shnapir recalled. “It was going to be a surprise appearance. No one knew about it. It was a big secret–hush-hush. We started to skate in mid-Febuary .”
However, the covid-19 pandemic hit in full force by mid-March, and that year’s Ice Chips show was canceled. So Castelli and Shnapir turned their attention back to coaching. During this period, the Skating Club of Boston also started transitioning from the Club’s longtime home at 1240 Soldiers Field Road in Boston to their new location in Norwood, MA.
“There was a worry that some of the membership wasn’t going to come down to the new facility. But more folks ended up coming down than we had originally thought. Because, to have this level of training environment–you can’t beat it. If you build it, they will come. It’s like in Field of Dreams,” Shnapir said, referring to the popular film, in which the main character builds his own baseball diamond.
While the Club’s move was taking place, Castelli was busy preparing for her wedding to longtime fiance David Leenen. The couple’s big day was set for October 9, 2020. However, due to the pandemic, they had to cancel their planned large wedding and opted for a smaller event.
“It was, like, a ten-person wedding,” said Castelli. “David and I had been together for 10+ years, so we thought it was just time to do it. We got a justice of the peace and got married. We had his siblings and my parents, brother, and grandparents. We had dinner at a restaurant and went home; it wasn’t anything grand.”
Almost a year later in September 2021, Castelli and Leenen had a second wedding in Newport, Rhode Island. This time, they were able to invite all their friends and family.
“This wedding was a lot more elaborate,” said Castelli. “I wore my big wedding dress for the second one. [She wore a shorter, simpler white dress for the first wedding.] It was great to see our friends and family again, for the first time in a while. And Simon was there, dancing up a storm.”
“Yup, burning up the dance floor,” confirmed Shnapir, with a laugh.
Castelli and Leenen took a short “mini-moon” trip to Bar Harbor, ME, after the first wedding, and are hoping to take a longer delayed honeymoon to Greece and Italy next spring. Meanwhile, Leenen is completing his residency as a surgeon at Brown University’s Rhode Island Hospital. He has been accepted to a one-year program at Providence Portland Medical Center in Portland, OR.
“So in a year, we’re going to move to Oregon for 12 months,” Castelli said. “And then we’re going to probably end up back in the Boston area, so I can come back to the Skating Club of Boston. I’m currently coaching at the Club in the afternoon. I teach kids in Rhode Island in the morning.”
With the Night of Stars show coming up, Castelli and Shnapir had another opportunity to skate together. They decided to take it. The former partners were surprised at how quickly pairs skating came back to them.
“It was like riding a bike. It came back really, really fast,” said Shnapir. “As soon as we held hands and skated–at least for me–it was like, ‘Okay, this feels like it happened yesterday.’ Obviously, we’re a little older. And our bodies have changed a little bit. At least mine has, for sure. We’re not quite the elite athletes that we once were. But a lot of the moves came back quickly. So we figured, why not? This will be a fun experience. Here’s our chance to go out and perform.”
“We just got back into it right away,” Castelli agreed. “We tried a lift on the ice, super-slow. And the next time we were skating into it, it was super-fast. And that was only the second time we’d tried that lift in seven years. I think what we’re actually capable of still doing is pretty awesome. I don’t think Simon and I ever thought we’d be in the position to skate like this again. It’s great to have that opportunity to close the full circle and still have a connection as a pair.”
The couple will perform many of their former elements, but Castelli drew the line at doing throw triple jumps. “Simon was pushing me to do throw triples, but I don’t know if I want to feel the nervousness of being thrown under spotlights ever again. But we’ll see. Maybe eventually down the line, we’ll do some throw triples.”
“Or throw quads!” Shnapir joked, laughing. “Watch out, U.S. senior pairs!”
Despite all their past experience, Castelli and Shnapir fully expect to feel nervous once showtime comes. “It’s weird to feel tired again, running the program,” Castelli observed. “Both of us haven’t felt that in a while. It’s like the shaky jitters you get from competing coming back.”
“We’ve done dozens of these types of performances. But still, no matter how many times you do it, you get a little bit of nervous energy. And that’s good,” said Shnapir. “We’re excited to get that spark back.”
The duo look forward to skating in front of their students at the Club. “It’s going to be exciting for the kids,” Castelli said. “Normally, they get excited if we do a waltz jump. And now we’re doing almost all of our old tricks.”
“I know a lot of my kids really want to see their coach skate. I’m sure some of them want to see me fall,” Shnapir joked. “But that’s not going to happen.”
Castelli and Shnapir will skate in the show alongside current competitors from the Club who hope to make the Olympic team this year, such as Audrey Lu & Misha Mitrofanov and Jimmy Ma. The duo said they try to be available as a support system for the younger skaters whenever asked.
“You don’t want to be that old-timer, just giving your opinions every two seconds,” Castelli noted. “But sometimes they’ll reach out to us, and we’ll give them pointers or advice, or help them feel good about themselves. I think that’s half the battle, feeling good about yourselves.”
“It’s a delicate balance between trying to be supportive and giving advice, but still keeping it light-hearted and friendly. They’ve got to take care of their business and do their job. But we’re more than happy to talk,” Shnapir agreed.
The very act of skating together again gives cause for Castelli and Shnapir to reflect on their own competitive career.
“I can remember doing these lifts at the Olympics, and how I felt at those moments, and feeling the air again now,” Castelli mused. “It’s nice to feel that energy again from skating pairs. Looking back, it’s like, wow, we had a lot of good things going for us that we didn’t capitalize on as much as we should have. But, just thinking about how much we did accomplish together is huge. And I think we never fully got to celebrate that. Now that we’re back, we can.”
“Now that we can reflect on it and take the time to relive it a little bit, it’s interesting,” Shnapir concurred. “We’ve been telling stories about competitions and events, even sharing things with each other that we weren’t aware of at the time.”
Castelli and Shnapir spoke of the significance of this weekend’s show for them.
“To be part of the past and present of The Skating Club of Boston means a lot to us,” said Castelli. “You see some of us [in pictures] on the walls–we’re part of the history. And just being here forever. It’s always going to be our home. So to be in the Grand Opening show is a big deal. And we’re excited to be back under that spotlight for the first time since 2014.”
“And we also get to skate with Scott Hamilton,” Shnapir added. “Scotty was the reason I started skating. He’s just a stand-up guy, a class act, and a fantastic human being. We’re thrilled to be able to help the cause of everything he’s doing with his foundation. It’s a great cause that we’re skating for. Between that, and it being our home, and with Scott … What more could you ask for?”
Castelli and Shnapir will skate in A Night of Stars on Saturday, Dec. 4, at 6:00 p.m. For tickets, click here.