It was ever thus: Keegan Messing, taking to the airwaves from Alaska to anywhere in the world, always faced the prospect of a long and winding road.
But his latest odyssey – to compete at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in Ottawa this week – takes the cake.
With weather delays and COVID-related cancellations, Messing, his wife Lane, and young tot Wyatt, spent 33 hours traversing a 19-hour itinerary, to get to Ottawa. They arrived Wednesday at 10 a.m. Their original ticket had them arriving at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
His skates haven’t arrived yet. They are probably somewhere at Pearson International Airport in Toronto – an unscheduled stop on his journey.
The Messing’s original ticket was to bounce them from Alaska, to Seattle, to Vancouver, and then straight on to Ottawa.
“We had about three or four cancelled flights yesterday,” Messing said. “We were constantly getting rebooked and redirectioned. My wife and I actually got split up on our trip at one point and then we got brought back together.”
Their altered flight schedule shed Vancouver – so close to Seattle – from the itinerary. They had an eight-hour overlay in Seattle overnight, and then flew to Toronto. But their flight to Ottawa, only an hour long, was cancelled. This caused them a 16-hour layover in Toronto.
All of the cancellations and delays have scuttled Messing’s practice at another rink Wednesday. The event’s official practices begin Thursday. He’s hoping his skates will arrive by then.
His skates also didn’t initially arrive with him at his most recent competition, the Golden Spin of Zagreb in Croatia last month (another slog of a journey.) At his first official practice, he did the only thing he could: He jogged alongside the rink boards “just mentally there for the practice, just trying to put myself in competition mindset,” he said.
Still, he won his only medal of the season, a gold. He had won the short program, then finished fifth in the free, missing fourth because of a point lost for a time violation.
Still, he said, he was going in the right direction. He had landed both of his quads, doubled one of his triple Axels, made a misstep on another, earned level fours on all elements.
Since then, he’s been working more on a quad Lutz, a jump that’s been in his rear-view mirror for years. He’s landed some recently, but might not add them in the program until after nationals.
Staying safe from viruses and new variants has been paramount this season for Messing, even in far-flung Alaska. Currently Alaska is under high alert for COVID cases, with 100 cases per 100,000 people. Positive cases have increased by 262 per cent over the past week. Only 57.5 per cent of residents 5 and up, are fully vaccinated.
Messing just hopes that the complicated travel passage to Ottawa hasn’t put his family at risk. The exponential rise of COVID has “definitely kind of broadsided us,” Messing said. “We bought the tickets a while ago when things were much safer. We talked about it a lot. It was a lot of: to come, to not to come, to come, to not to come.
“It really just came down to my wife really wanted to come with me.”
Lane will not be able to go to the rink, but she will support Messing as best she can.
“And my little buddy gets his first trip to Canada,” Messing said. “I’m hoping that we were able to stay safe enough on the trip here. And fingers crossed that everything goes well.”
Little Wyatt handled the slog of a trip well. Messing calls his wife “Supermom,” who is “always just hitting it out of the park with him.
“They did fantastic,” he said. “It was pretty cool to see that they handled such a rough journey so well.”
At home, he’s been minimizing contact with people in his daily activities to avoid catching COVID. His daily life consists of training and returning home to his wife and child. He spends his off-time just doing things around the house.
He does not go to the gym to work out. He does all of his workouts at home. And now that he has installed his backyard rink, he can also do cardio workouts there.
The Messings shop for groceries at Costco and buy in bulk, with the aim of not having to return for two or 2 ½ weeks.
Training is not restricted in Alaska, as it is in Ontario. But Messing skates at a rink that doesn’t get as much traffic as others. During the school year, when school is in session, there are fewer in the rink in prime hours.
“We do take steps to limit being around other people in the rink and having a group of skaters that we do skate around,” he said. “We are not bubbling, but we are definitely taking steps to minimize as much outside contact as possible.”
Already this season, Messing has competed more than twice as often as during 2020. He’s already competed at Finlandia Trophy, Skate Canada International, Internationaux de France, and Zagreb. “Right now, it’s awesome to have a real season back again,” he said.
He’s spent the season trying to master his new long program, to “Home” by Phillip Phillips. “By the time Skate Canada came around, we kind of realized that things weren’t working out the way that we wanted,” he said. “The program wasn’t turning into the vessel that we hoped it would be. We changed the way we approached the long, some things about it. We got definite improvement in France. And again in Zagreb.”
Messing finished fourth at Finlandia, fifth at Skate Canada and sixth in France. It’s hard to believe but Messing has never won a Canadian title, although he has long been Canada’s top international skater, able to pull out the top marks. His best effort at Canadians was during the 2018 Olympic season when he finished second at nationals to Patrick Chan, who was winning his tenth national title.
This Olympic season is different from the last one. In 2018, Messing wasn’t tipped to make the team. This time, he is. “It’s the mental game that is definitely different this time around,” he said. “I feel a little bit more weight on my shoulders.
“Last cycle I came in hopeful to make the team and the first jump out of the gate, I tripled my quad.
“I remember thinking: ‘There’s the Olympic team right there [gone]’, and I was skating up to my triple Axel and I remember just talking to myself: No. You don’t give up. You fight for every point. This is not the end. And you will fight for everything you have got.
“That mistake didn’t cost me the team and it’s stuck with me since. It’s like it doesn’t matter what mistakes you do, you fight for everything afterwards.”
In Ottawa, he’s going to muster the same mentality, he said. “Do it on the ice. It’s really sad not to see the crowd here, but fight for every point you can,” he said.
He’s climbed a mountain just to get to Ottawa. The rest will take place on the ice.
Canadian men’s champions:
2020: Roman Sadovsky
2019: Nam Nguyen
2018: Patrick Chan
2017: Patrick Chan
2016: Patrick Chan
2015: Nam Nguyen
2008 to 2014: Patrick Chan