Canadian figure skater Keegan Messing is a consummate showman. He loves to play to the crowd.
His music selection for this Olympic season, however, is more intimate.
The 29-year-old chose "Home" by Phillip Phillips as a tribute to his baby boy Wyatt, who he credits with making his life complete.
"I didn't realize my heart wasn’t full until he came into our lives," Messing said. "The fullness of being is just incredible. You come home after a rough day on the ice and I can just pick him up … and to be his person, for him to be upset and you can pick him up and calm him right down, there's something special about that kind of bond.
"I’m still figuring it out, but it's incredible. He’s everything."
The 29-year-old will compete at Skate Canada International next week in Vancouver, and has enjoyed being back with his teammates on international circuit. Because of Canada's COVID-19 travel restrictions and quarantine rules, and the fact Messing has dual citizenship and lives and trains in Alaska, he was the only Canadian able to compete in a Grand Prix last season.
He won bronze at Skate America in Las Vegas, and dedicated that performance to his grounded national teammates.
No fans were permitted at that event.
"They piped in applause after our program, and it was like someone took all the bass out of your favourite song, It was like you heard the sound, but the feeling wasn't there, there was no body behind the sound," Messing said.
Last season was unlike any other. Both Skate Canada International and the Canadian championships were cancelled due to the pandemic. Instead, skaters competed in the virtual Skate Canada Challenge. The world championship in Stockholm was the only live event for Canadian skaters other than Messing.
Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, who will compete next week in Vancouver, climbed the world ice dance podium for the first time in Stockholm, winning bronze. And while training amid the pandemic was far from perfect, they learned a lot about themselves.
"The pandemic taught us that we could perform under any circumstance," Gilles said. "We were so in limbo, like: we're going to be competing, we're not competing, we're going to be competing, we're not competing.
"And we both had to kind of take a step back and be like, 'We still have a goal, the Olympics is still the goal that's in front of us, we are still working towards something.' Once we figured that out, coming into train was easier. So, learning to deal with uncertainty, we've both grown and gotten stronger. And when we're having a bad day, we can take a step back and say 'Look, it's not as bad as last year.'"
Messing finished a career-best sixth in Stockholm.
His wife Lane Hodson gave birth to their son about four months later in July.
Asked on a conference call how he's balancing his training with a new baby, Messing heaped praise on his wife.
"As soon as little man Wyatt popped out, she really stepped into supermom shoes," he said. "She was an athlete at one point in time too, and she understands the mindset it takes to have goals and to push for them. So, the fact that I'm staying in (the sport) for as long as I am … maybe this is my last season or may I have one more in me, she understands the sacrifice to take to be able to stay in this sport."
Messing finished fourth at Finlandia Trophy earlier this month in Espoo. He led after the short program, but a couple of falls dropped him out of the medals.
He added a quadruple Lutz to his jump repertoire in the past couple of seasons, but said it remains a work in progress.
"Quad Lutz is a very difficult jump, and the older I get, the more I’m struggling with everyday aches and pains. Something that I didn't realize when I started working on the quad Lutz was just how brutal that jump is on the body," he said.
Messing said he's working more on overall strength so his body can withstand the demands of the big jumps.
"It's a heavy jump. I love it. And at times, it can be one of my best elements," he said.
The limited number of fans permitted at the Grand Prix stop in Vancouver next week will see one of the world's best jumpers in Nathan Chen. The American will make his Skate Canada debut.
Chen landed an Olympic-record six quad jumps in his long program in 2018 in Pyeongchang.
Messing said Chen's jumping ability "is incredible."
"Just because more and more people are doing more and more quads doesn't take away the fact that these jumps are difficult, and watching someone like Nathan nail these heavy, heavy jumps over and over again, you watch him and it's hard to believe it's possible, just knowing how it affects (my) own body," Messing said. "To see him out there, continue to push the sport of figure skating, it's really inspiring."
American Jason Brown and Evgeni Semenenko will also be among the men's singles contenders next week.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2021.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press