It’s going to be hard to say goodbye, says Keegan Messing as it became clear this week that this season will be his last as a competitive figure skater.
He’s 30 and has other irons in the fire. During a pre-Skate Canada conference call, Messing sat beside his toddler son, Wyatt, at a breakfast of oatmeal and bananas. Wyatt wore oatmeal in his hair for the occasion.
“This summer, I did a lot of being dad,” he said. “And learning how to be dad. It’s something I didn’t realize coming into this whole thing: is that the kid has to learn a lot of stuff. But we’re learning right along with him.”
In future, he would like to spend more time with the young’un and his wife, Lane, at their home in Alaska. He’d like to follow in the footsteps of his father, a third-generation fireman. He’s not sure how he could juggle that with his desire to be a show skater, perhaps with Stars On Ice, with Art on Ice in Europe, at any show in Japan. He hasn’t figured that all out yet.
But for now, he’s setting his sights on Skate Canada International in Mississauga Oct. 28 to 30. He will unveil a new short program – we saw it first at Nebelhorn Trophy, which he won – but the birth of this new program was hard-fought. He and choreographer Lance Vipond couldn’t settle on the correct music, the best vehicle for him to end his career, try what they may.
“I really could not find short-program music this year,” Messing said. “It was one of the hardest decisions we’d ever made.” Lance would send Messing ideas. Messing would send ideas back. They tried all genres. Messing’s house rocked with potential music choices.
Nothing. It got to the point that Messing would have had to leave the next day to return home, with nothing resolved. “We couldn’t figure anything out,” he said.
Meanwhile, Messing, being Messing, was listening to a viral meme of Ryan Reynolds and Will Farrell on TikTok, singing a few lines of MIKA’s “Grace Kelly.”
“It got stuck in my head,” he said.
Reynolds sang a low part, then another part, then another, before Farrell interrupted, singing the same words in falsetto.
”I could be brown. I could be blue.
I could be violet skies.
I could be hateful. I could be hurtful. I could be anything you like.”
As a joke, Messing played the whole song to his wife, Lane, in the car one day, just because he thought it was very funny.
Finally, Vipond texted Messing in an urgent tone: “Hey, we’ve got to figure this out.”
Messing sent Vipond the Grace Kelly music, in a text.
“Fine,” Messing said. “What do you think of Grace Kelly?” He was joking.
He expected Vipond to reply: “Seriously, but what are we going to skate to?”
Instead, Vipond replied: “Really?” He didn’t sound dismissive.
Messing played it again, and actually thought about the song. He could see that the time was “almost exactly perfect’ for a short program. “And actually, I kind of love this,” he thought. “I already like the song. I relate to it. It’s fun and it’s kind of the vibe I was going for.”
Messing texted Vipond: “Yeah, I think I actually like it.”
To his surprise, Vipond replied: “I think I really like it too.”
That was it: Messing’s short program. Agreed. “We’re doing it.” It’s the Keegs way of finding a program.
They did the choreography.
It’s a joyful piece. Silly. Light-hearted. Requiring quick feet. Very Keegan Messing.
“When I’d practice, I’d get a smile on my face,” he said. “It’s such a fun song to skate to. The meaning is great, too.”
Generally, Messing is asked to skate to a certain genre, theme, air. “People ask me to be like this, or this. But this is me,” he said. “This is me who is skating.
“This being my final year, it’s kind of perfect that I get to go out and just skate like me. I’m not wearing a mask. [He’s not talking COVID masks.] I’m not putting on a character. I’m more true to myself than I have been in my whole career.”
He showed it off first at Nebelhorn Trophy, but finished third in the short program, after falling on his opening quad toe loop (underrotated) that was to have been in combination with a triple toe loop. He also exploded into a big split, but didn’t land it properly, something he did 10 years ago at Nebelhorn in the long program when he was still skating for the United States. Last month at this event, he was assessed for two falls in the short program.
Still, he won the long program and the gold medal, and helped Canada win a trophy as top team at the event. He hadn’t realized he had a fan base in Germany. “It was really cool to have their support over there,” he said. “The crowd was amazing.”
He wasn’t able to insert a quad Lutz he has been working on studiously this summer, and he won’t use the quad Lutz at Skate Canada either.
“I’ve been training the quad Lutz pretty heavily this year,” he said. But a week or two before Nebelhorn he twisted his left ankle on the ice. He doesn’t quite remember how he did it. And by this time, his boots had started to show signs of wear. He trained, tying them up. “A couple of really deep landings started messing with my other ankle, which caused me to stop working on the Lutz, leading up to Nebelhorn,” he said.
And the quad Lutz came off the Skate Canada list last Monday, when he suffered a “malfunction in equipment.” He blew out a boot and he’s currently been skating in new skates since Tuesday. “I just want to get 100 per cent consistency and skating skills by the time I hit Skate Canada,” he said.
“I want to save my body parts because I would like to walk away from the season, literally,” he said. “But at the same time, I would like to put the quad Lutz back in.
“Being in new skates, the quad Lutz has been on the back burner again, sadly,” he said. “But it’s still on the forefront of my mind. And we’re just working on getting strong enough again physically, mentally, and get the boots weak enough to be able to start attempting it.”
He says his made friends with the new left boot, but the placement of the blade on the right foot has been more dicey. “The right one is on a different plane every day,” he said. “At this point, I don’t think I’ll be moving it again. Before the competition, I think we have it hopefully dialed in. But I’m making friends, slowly. They are coming along.”
The trick is, Messing said, the breaking in of boots is temperature dependent. The warmer it is, the more the boots will bend. “The colder it is, the boots are going to feel like steel, rather than pliable material.” In Alaska, Messing trains in “an ice box,” which makes it more difficult to break in new boots.
He wears boot covers when he trains, to help the boots stay warm. “They are getting softer every day, doing everything that I was doing in the other boots, except the Lutz,” he said. “So I feel like I can still show up to Skate Canada and put on a good performance.”
All this being said, Messing’s approach to the season is his farewell mindset. He will tackle the season unlike any other in his long career. Every year, he says, he’s been fighting for placement. This year, he doesn’t really care.
“This year is for me,” he said. “Placement doesn’t’ really matter to me. I want more of a feeling. …I just want to show up and skate free. I want to skate for the crowd more. To get back to my roots a little bit.”
It’s one of the reasons he didn’t switch over to new boots right away (until he had to). He wanted to feel comfortable and genuine out on the ice and “to feel a way of saying goodbye.,”
He never thought he’d still be in the sport past 24 years old. Switching allegiance to Canada gave him a second life in the sport. “And I’m still finding new ways to improve myself,” he said at his dining table.
“It’s going to be hard to say goodbye.”