Figure skater Keegan Messing crossing fingers he doesn't miss birth of second child

The Canadian figure skating championships are going to be a roller-coaster of emotions for Keegan Messing.

Not only are they expected to be his final national event — he plans to retire this off-season — his pregnant wife Lane Hodson is due to give birth to their second child on Jan. 14, the day of the men's free program at Tribute Communities Centre in Oshawa, Ont.

"Right now we're crossing our fingers and hoping baby comes in two days or baby stays comfortable for another week and a half," Messing said.

Hodson will stay home in Girdwood, Alaska., surrounded by her family, including their son Wyatt, who's 18 months old, while Messing will skip the traditional skating gala on Jan. 15 to rush home.

Speaking on a conference call, Messing said he's still trying to wrap his head around saying goodbye to the sport.

"I've been skating for 27 years, I'm coming up on 28 years in this sport," said Messing, who suspects these are his 20th national championships — there's been too many to count.

"To be heading for my final nationals, it's a scary one. This is all I've ever really done in my life and to be saying goodbye this year, yeah, it's scary."

Messing, who turns 31 on Jan. 23, said he's not sure how he'll handle his emotions when he steps on the ice.

"I feel like every time I go to a competition, the answer is different," he said, "This year, the closer we get to the due date, the closer we get to Nationals, the more scared I am of what those thoughts are going to be getting on the ice. And honestly, at this point, I think it's just gonna be, not shut my eyes and hope for the best, but keep my head up, keep the emotions positive.

"(And) I'll be in constant communication with my wife."

Hodson has always been his source of comfort during stressful times. At the 2021 world championships, Messing needed a top-10 finish for Canada to have two men's singles berths in the Beijing Olympics. He finished sixth.

"I remember freaking out backstage a little bit … and I called my wife," he said. "I had my wireless headphones in and I paid for a call back home … and she was just talking with me, just naturally, not like not anything about the sport or anything.

"So, that's one of the tricks I like to do when I started getting really nervous out there is to, to call home and have her be there with me. (But) if nationals is anything like past nationals, the baby's probably going to try to come out during the long program. Cross our fingers, hope for the best and hopefully I get to make it home for the birth of the second."

Messing's skates didn't arrive to last year's Canadian championships and Olympic trials in Ottawa. He checks his skates on flights because of air traffic rules around removable blades. Someone drove a pair of new skates and blades in Messing's size from the Jackson factory just west of Toronto to Ottawa the day before his short program. He went on to win gold.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, next week's event marks the first national championships since 2020 with fans.

Messing grew up competing for the U.S., but switched allegiances to Canada in 2015. His mom was born in Edmonton. He won gold in the Nebelhorn Trophy this past fall, and soaked up the "magical moment" of hearing O Canada on the podium.

"I've loved having Canada on my back. I've loved skating for you guys," he said. "It's really made me feel at home every time and to be up on the podium and to hear the national anthem, it's such an incredible experience, almost brings tears to my eyes every time I get to experience it makes you want to do it more and more and more."

His body, however, has other ideas.

"There is so much work involved in doing this sport. Going to the rink every day has been a challenge this year more than every other year," he said. "To be willing to hurt, to be willing to push my body to that point of exhaustion, to push my joints and my muscles to the point of almost injury, it's getting to be such a mentally difficult place to put myself into that I'm pretty dang happy this is going to be my last year."

Also vying for men's singles gold next week will be Roman Sadovsky and Stephen Gogolev.

Madeline Schizas headlines women's singles. Ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, who captured their first Grand Prix Final title last month, had to withdraw due to Gilles' appendicitis.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 6, 2023.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press