Girdwood’s Keegan Messing skates for Canadian National Team
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
Twenty four years ago, Keegan Messing was born in a house in Old Girdwood. His mother, Sally Messing, has always been a big figure skating fan, so Keegan started skating as a three-year old. After the 1992 Olympics, libraries carried VHS tapes of Olympic figure skating available, and Keegan was a devoted viewer who fell in love with the sport. He became an avid fan of Elvis Stojko, the top Canadian skater at the time, which drew Keegan to pursue the sport with more passion and intensity.
“It was the power of it,” said Keegan, “the jumping, the spinning. It was so captivating. It was just great.”
These early experiences led Keegan to compete against the best figure skating talent in the world. He represents Edmonton on the Canadian National Team through the Sherwood Park Figure Skating Club. Though he was born in Girdwood, his mother was born in Edmonton, Alberta and has dual Canadian/U.S. citizenship, which allows him to represent the red maple leaf flag proudly in competitions.
It is Keegan’s first season on the Canadian National Team, which he originally wanted to skate for, but an early technicality in his career led him to skating for the U.S. Team for seven years. Last year, an opportunity arose on the Canadian National Team, so he took it. Now he mainly trains in Calgary in Canada Olympic Park, which has four ice rinks at the giant, mountainside facility designed for the production of Olympic athletes.
He occasionally trains in Toronto, but in the off-season he practices solo in Anchorage. The location presents challenges in motivation because the caliber of practice is not same as in Canada.
“Training in Alaska is hard,” Keegan said. “I’m alone up here. I don’t have any competition. It’s very hard to self-motivate sometimes. At least when you’re skiing, you’re outside and it’s a lot of fun and it’s easy to get motivated. If you’re in a dark, cold rink, sometimes it’s a little difficult to get yourself motivated to that point to push yourself beyond yourself.”
“I’m hoping to have two triple axels in my program, a quad toe and a quad salchow. If I can add a quad salchow, it will boost my score by over 10 points, if I can pull it off.”
It takes a lot of energy to perform, and including an extra quad jump adds to the rigors but enhances the rewards of the judges’ score. His 4½-minute long program features eight jumping passes, three spins and two foot loops, which place physical and mental demands upon a skater. He hopes to see his efforts pay off in the 2017 Canadian Nationals after his finish this year.
“I finished sixth this year at Nationals,” Keegan said, “even though I skated very well. I improved myself from last year to this year’s Nationals by over 20 points, which is actually very good. My component score improved by over 10 points. I was one mistake away from second place. My goal is to keep improving myself and be ready for the next season.”
His mistake was a slight slip after a jump, which cost him valuable points. What most people don’t realize is that during warm-ups, he lost an edge on his skates and had a hard wipe out that bruised him badly. He fought through it during his program, but it left him laid-up and nearly motionless the next day from the bruising. He wished people understood the physical aspect of figure skating more so they can appreciate it better.
“On a quad,” said Keegan, “I spend about 0.7 seconds in the air, and I spin four times around, which comes out to 474 rpm. That’s the average rotating speed. You take that much energy, throw it into the ice from about three feet in the air, and you’re slamming into the ice over and over again. It kind of hurts.”
Keegan has found an abundance of appreciation for what he does in Girdwood. He was a Girdwood 2020 Go for the Gold recipient, which offers grants to Olympic caliber athletes to support them in their training.
“It’s amazing,” said Keegan. “To be recognized by your community is always incredible. Knowing that they’re behind you, you’ve got to be doing something right. When you hear about it, and you get that follow up in your email, you just feel this inner strength and sense of happiness about you. Wow! Someone is watching. Someone cares. It helps you in your training. It gives you that extra push, that extra reason to push.”
Another reason that drives Keegan, especially during tough stretches, is his passion for figure skating. He enjoys what his skills allow him to do on the ice, whether it is in practice or competition. He likes the thrill of what he can do.
“For me, I love the craft,” Keegan said. “I love performing. I love feeling that glide, the smooth feeling of the ice. On top of it all, I can hit over 20 mph on skates, just in pushing. To feel that much speed and power, it’s so much fun. Then you can throw yourself up in the air and spin three times around and land backwards on one foot.”
Figure skating in national and international competitions has helped him appreciate Girdwood that much more because he has travelled around the world. Growing up in Girdwood, he had friends who wanted to get away or go to other places to see what else was out there. But no matter how far or how long he travels, he always wants to return to the place he knows as home.
“By the time I turned 18,” Keegan said, “I already went to several different countries, multiple states and figured out I don’t want to be anywhere else but Alaska. The only other place I would want to live is Canada. I come back every weekend to Girdwood because I cannot stand the city life. It’s too much. I get close to my roots. Then I go back out and have some fun again.”