Canada's Keegan Messing performs during the men's single free skating competition in the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Canada’s Messing thrilled to compete with teammates he hasn’t seen in a year

Canada’s Messing thrilled to compete with teammates he hasn’t seen in a year

When COVID-19 forced the closure of gyms in Alaska, Keegan Messing got creative.

The Canadian figure skater hoisted the batteries out of two cars, and used the 36-pound car parts as weights. His chainsaw was the perfect replacement for a lighter weight, at around 20 pounds.

“I was holding two (car) batteries doing one-legged squats in my living room, or doing (a) vertical leap and actually hitting my head on the ceiling,” Messing said with a laugh. “I just think it’s funny.”

Canadian figure skaters have been grounded since the global pandemic forced cancellation of the world championships last March. Despite the unique hurdles in this bizarre abbreviated season, Messing said he’s in great shape ahead of next week’s world championships in Stockholm.

“That initial shutdown (last spring) was really hard, it was the longest time I was ever off the ice (seven weeks), but we’ve had solid training time since then.”

The big difference was the off-ice training. When the gyms eventually reopened, Messing still didn’t feel safe enough inside one, and so improvised. He snagged a rubber mat from the rink to practise his jumps, so he wouldn’t be landing on hard concrete.

“It’s been a lot of improvising … but honestly, training has been going excellent this year,” he said.

Messing is Canada’s lone men’s singles entry at worlds, which he said was bittersweet. Messing and fellow skater Nam Nguyen are good friends, and he’d have been happy, he said, if either one of them earned the spot.

“Nam and I, honestly, we were on the phone almost … gosh, it had to have been daily, if not twice daily, leading up to the decision, or even leading up to our evaluation/monitoring session,” Messing said.

Skate Canada selected Messing after conducting remote video sessions — think: figure skating’s version of a Zoom call — with individual skaters.

The one spot comes with a big responsibility. A top-10 finish would clinch Canada two spots in the event at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

“When I got it, (Nguyen) had nothing but support for me,” Messing said.

Messing, who lives in Girdwood just outside Anchorage and has dual citizenship, is the only Canadian skater to have competed in a live event this season because of Canadian travel restrictions. He won bronze at Skate America in Las Vegas, and dedicated that performance the national teammates he hasn’t seen in over a year.

“Skating for the team at Skate America, it was one of the best things I could have done. I took the ice and even re-watching the video, right before I took my pose, I can see it in my face when I thought of the team, and thought ‘This is for you guys.’

“I really feel for them because they had worlds (last March in Montreal) taken from them, they had Skate Canada taken from them, and then they had nationals taken from them. They have been the real MVPs of this fight. They have been going to the rink, they have been training their butts off for these competitions and getting the rug taken out from them time and time again.”

Last season’s shutdown came after what was already a difficult season for Messing. His younger brother Paxon died in a motorcycle crash in September of 2019, just before the season’s opening event.

But Keegan spoke with delight on a recent Zoom call about his impending fatherhood. He and his wife Lane Hodson are expecting a baby on July 4. They announced the news on Instagram, posting a photo of tiny skates sandwiched between his and his wife’s skates.

“I feel happy all the time, I get to feel the baby kick, and it just fills my heart with joy,” Messing said. “I am over the moon about this whole thing … I have been training harder than ever, and I’m just just happy about day-to-day life.”

Messing said apart from training, his backyard rink has kept him busy. He’s expanded on it, and even built a crashed ice course with ramps and jumps. Since learning about the worlds going ahead, he’s stayed off the course for safety reasons. An avid outdoorsman, he also lamented having to stay off the ski slopes since Alaska has been basking in gorgeous weather.

Messing faced a long trip to Stockholm, with stops in Seattle and Amsterdam along the way. Messing said he and his team have carefully mapped out the precautions he needs to take for every leg of the trip.

The International Skating Union announced in late January that the world championships would still happen, despite COVID-19 raging again in Europe. The event is being held with no spectators.

Messing said he remains optimistic about travelling amid the pandemic.

“That’s one thing I’m not letting myself think about too much,” Messing said. “As soon as you start worrying, your whole mental state goes down and that’s one of the most important things right now I think is to keep your mental spirits high and optimistic.”

The prospect of seeing his teammates is keeping his spirits high.

“For them to be keeping their heads up, and to be still pursuing this sport (after so many cancellations this season), I have to hand it to them, they’re being incredibly strong people that I really, really admire,” he said. “And I’m just very honoured that I get to compete side by side with them.”

Since he and his wife have no TV or WiFi at their home, Messing hasn’t watched any skating competition this season other than what he saw at Skate America. But American Nathan Chen and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu are the favourites in the field.

The event opens Wednesday with the women’s and pairs short program. The men’s event begins with the short program on Thursday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 18, 2021.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

Figure Skating

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