Keegan Messing hasn’t plopped himself down on a rinkside seat for two minutes before he pulls out the cell phone and up pops a photo of his three-month old daughter, Mia. She has so much hair. Dark, of course, like his.
And then another one of son Wyatt in a snowsuit, with eyes as blue as ice.
“They’re both doing so good,” Messing said. “I love them so much. And Little Man, he’s just already in love with everything.”
It seems that his family is our family, too. He’s made it so.
Messing is trying to take everything in, on his second Stars On Ice tour. “It’s so much fun to be here,” he said. “The stops so far have been incredible. Halifax was practically sold out. [So was Kitchener]. Where we’ve gone, people have been on their feet. There have been people jumping up and down. The enthusiasm that has been brought to the arenas for Kurt [Browning’s] last year has been almost heartbreaking, because it’s so beautiful to see every one, and the reward that he’s getting for his time and sacrifice to the sport.”
Still, Messing has discovered that the busier you are, the more people will see you. “But the sad truth is that the less people will get to see you,” he said. “I’m starting to learn that the time you spend in front of the crowd is time you’ve lost with your family.”
But he’s in love with it. He was born to skate shows. He’s a performer extraordinaire that connects so easily to the person in the back row. So here he is, personality out front for all to see, grinning all the way. He has endeared himself to the world, no less on this tour.
When Messing skated his last routine at the World Team Trophy in Japan a few weeks ago, he figured his little light in the skating world would just flicker and die out, that life would go on without him. Granted, he had finally won two Canadian titles, but no world medals, no Grand Prix event gold, although some silver and bronze here and there, no Olympic medals (he missed competing at the team event because of COVID/travel problems). And he finally won a silver medal at the Four Continents in February but it happened at the very end of his career. So who was Keegan Messing?
Before World Team Trophy, Messing didn’t think he had an impact on the sport at all. But he saw the crowds’ reaction after he said he was retiring. At the world championship banquet in Japan, he was honoured: “Thank you Keegan for everything you’ve done for this sport for many years,” they said. In front of everybody.
“Who gets that?” Messing said.
Ask Jason Brown what he has seen while skating against Messing, particularly at the end of the season. At the world championship in Japan, Brown was in full focus mode, eyes in front, blocking everything out, because he had to skate first after the warmup.
But then he heard the announcement: “Keegan Messing is skating at his final world championship.” A boisterous crowd cheer went up. It caught Brown’s attention. He looked up and saw Messing waving to the crowd. “I’ve never seen anybody do that,” Brown said. “Who waves during their six-minute warmup?”
But Messing has been doing this all season, wherever he skates. “It’s been going out and trying to live the experience, trying to soak up the moment, everything,” Messing said. “I’ll be on practice ice and I’ll see the people and I’ll look at them and I’ll wave to them and I’ll start talking to people on a practice. It’s just I’m trying to say goodbye and thank you, and I don’t know how many years I have of this
“I want to express how thankful I am for the support I’ve been getting, in this sport and to do this is just wonderful. “
At the World Team Trophy gala, Messing took a bow after doing his routine, but suddenly special music came on and the announcer said: “Hey, Keegan, don’t leave so soon. We’ve got a special message for you.”
They had contacted his wife in Alaska, and there was Lane and his two kids up on the Jumbotron with a message for him. “My team came out on the ice,” Messing said. “The whole crowd was on its feet and I got to take a final victory lap with the flag.” Messing is known for waving a huge Canadian flag when his teammates are skating.
Somebody shoved a microphone at him to tell the Japanese crowd his thoughts. His heart was full.
The Messing mystique has transcended medals. He has a one-of-a-kind personality that connects with all. His kids. His skates. His engaging engagement story with wife Lane. His wedding. His crazy mountain hobbies. His exhausting travel from Alaska to all parts of the world. His flying feet and spins. His graciousness to his competitors. His gift of the gab. His gifts are endless.
One of them is his short program to “Grace Kelly,” which he does on tour.
The other is a new routine – so Keegan Messing – called “The Mountain Song,” by Tophouse. He found it scrolling through Instagram before a wamup at the World Team Trophy. He sent it off to choreographer Lance Vipond, just to make sure it didn’t stray too far into what Messing usually does. (Vipond calls this sort of music: “Forest Music.,” It goes back to last fall when they were searching for short-program music, and Vipond called the music that Messing had picked: “Forest Music..“)
“He just doesn’t understand good music,” Messing explained.
After all, The Mountain Song is a guy playing a banjo with violins in behind. The musician was bringing joy, a happy vibe. That fits perfectly with Messing. “The jist of the song was “I want to climb every mountain with you,” Messing explained.
“Do you think it’s too forest music for people?” Messing asked Vipond.
Messing said. He immediately discussed it with his wife. He couldn’t stop listening to it.
So far, he’s had good reviews of it on the tour. It has more edges and good footwork, Messing said, but it’s still new. He didn’t choreograph it until the week of rehearsals. Tour choreographer Jeff Buttle gave him a little help with that. Buttle helped him map out the program. The rest of it came from Messing, although he admits that you can identify Buttle’s hand in it.
Buttle, listening to the music, knew something was missing, not quite right for Messing, couldn’t quite figure out what to do with a certain part. But he inserted some footwork the night of the Hamilton show. Messing did it for the first time DURING the show. It went well.
Messing says he’s trying to find new directions to go. He wants to start branching out from his comfort zone (Mountain Music). “I feel like I made a brand for myself and what type of skating works for me,” he said. “I want to find other categories, almost to the point that when I take to the ice, people are going to wonder what he’s going to bring us tonight.”
That’s a suggestion he got from Browning.
Messing said it’s hard to believe that Browning is 56. But at age 31, he doesn’t think about age. “Age is just a number,” he said, quoting the old saw. But from his mother, he has learned: “Growing older is mandatory. Growing up is optional. You get to choose how much you grow up.”
Despite the pull from home, Messing wants to continue doing shows as long as he can. Show skating is where his heart is. “I always like putting on a show,” he said. “I always like having fun, skating for the crowd…To do it every time and to go out and have the freedom to put whatever I want in the program is really what I’m looking forward to these next couple of years.”
Even if he decides to focus on a non-skating career, he would love to continue to do Stars On Ice. There’s nothing like it. “Gosh, I’d love to do it for the next 10 years,” he said. “I don’t know how realistic a goal that is, but if I can do it until I’m 50, I would really be happy.”
There’s a precedent for that.
Lyrics for “The Mountain Song”
We climbed a mountain
And I picked wildflowers and put them in her hair.
And at the top we found a meadow
And danced barefoot in the grass.
And I’m not lying.
There were bluebirds in the air.
…There was a time we felt like giving up.
But every fall and every stumble
Made us stop and see the wonder
With your hand in mind, we pushed on towards the top.
Why do people climb mountains?
Is it just to reach the top and see the meadow?
Well I tell you something
Every rock and every river
Every sore and every splinter
I would climb every mountain with you.
Well, the clouds roll.
There was lightning. There was thunder. There was rain.
As we hid beneath our shelter.
All the doubts that we had felt
Came pouring in as a flood we had to face.
Then came the sunshine.
The clouds rolled back.
And colour filled the earth.
And the rain, it brought the flowers.
You could sit and stare for hours.
And the toil and the struggle showed its worth.