The story of Keegan Messing reads like a book.
A best-selling book.
He’s the Indiana Jones of the skating set, pushing his way through temples of doom in his quest for the holy Sankara Stones, except that Messing’s high adventures are hair-raising in other ways: skates that don’t arrive, flights that are cancelled, a pandemic that caused him to hoist car batteries and chain saws instead of going to a gym, contracting COVID just before the past Olympics, causing him to miss the team event, and causing folks to chew their nails in fear that he could not make quite restricted flight connections to the Games for the individual event. True to Messing custom, he arrived at the last minute, jet-lagged. And he skated, somehow escaping giant spiders and roiling snakes.
This year, Messing must deal with a new, impossible situation: his wife Lane is expecting their second child on Jan. 14, the day of the men’s long program at the National Skating Championships in Oshawa, Ont. Should he go? Or should he stay?
There is no quick trip back to Alaska, should Lane sound the alarm that the baby is on its way. Last year, Messing’s itinerary called for a 19-hour trip from Alaska to Ottawa for the national championships. With dozens of flight cancellations, it took him 33-hours, with a 16-hour stopover in Toronto, and changes that caused Messing to be separated from Lane and son Wyatt for a time. So close and so far. And his skates didn’t arrive until late the night before the short program. He had been prepared to skate in women’s white skates off the shelf, something he did at his first Canadian Championships in 2015 when he had boot problems. Still, he won his first Canadian title in nine attempts last year, but he had to say goodbye to any practices.
So a decision took some thinking. Messing and his wife came to a decision together that he should go to Oshawa to compete at his last national championship. And this would be his 20th, a goal he wanted always to meet.
“Right now, we’re crossing our fingers and hoping the baby comes in two days, or that baby stays comfortable for another week and a half,” Messing said during a conference call. “I’m hoping the baby waits for me to come home.
“If baby is impatient, I have no doubt in my mind that my wife can deal with this, because she’s one of the strongest people I know. She’s incredible….The only part I worry about is when she comes home afterwards, having to deal with a toddler and a newborn all at once by herself.
“But again, she’s supermom. I don’t think there is anything that can be thrown her way in this matter that she can’t deal with.”
With time so tight, Skate Canada has given Messing permission to skip the gala, to go home as soon as the long program is finished. “I’m hopping on a plane to come home as soon as I can.” Missing the gala “hurt my feelings a little bit, because I do love skating in the gala,” he said.
Both of his parents are going to Oshawa to watch Messing’s Last Crusade. He didn’t realize they were going until he heard his father talk about when they were going to leave. Lane will have her entire family around her back home in Alaska. Messing’s mother asked if Lane would like her to stay around to help. Lane said “Go to nationals. You should be there for Keegan.” Messing’s mother has been at all of his previous nationals, both in Canada and the United States, except for last year because of COVID restrictions. And that was the event he won.
Messing is not sure if his aunts from his mother’s side of the family will attend. They are huge skating fans. They surprised him by getting front-row seats at Skate Canada International last October. Messing didn’t realize they were there until he skated by them during the warmup for the short program.
“Whoa! Hey! Can’t talk right now. I’m concentrating,” he said. He’s hoping they make it to nationals, too.
Every Keegan Messing skate is an emotional one, for so many reasons, and he has to deal with it all. “I feel like every time I go to competition, the answer is different,” he said. “This year, the closer we get to the due date, the closer we get to nationals, the more scared I am of what those thoughts are going to be when I get on the ice.”
At this point, he wants to just keep his head up, keep the emotions positive and “then just really hope for the best,” he said.
He will be in constant communication with his wife.
At the 2021 world championships, Messing was the sole Canadian men’s competitor and it was up to him to get two spots for Canadian men at the following Olympics. “I remember freaking out backstage a little bit,” he said, of the heavy responsibility. He had headphones on, and called home, while bobbing his head as if listening to music. But he was speaking to his wife: “just naturally, not anything about the sport, just random, what’s going on here.”
It’s one of his tricks to settle his emotions, when his nerves break out: Lane. His secret weapon. But it might be harder this time, if she is otherwise occupied. “This time, going to nationals, having her going through a very big part of our lives, we’ll see how everything goes,” he said. “If this nationals is anything like last nationals, the baby is going to try to come out during the long program.”
So he’ll cross his fingers and hope for the best. The best: that he would make it home in time for the birth of his second child.
Indiana Jones never had to deal with this.