A couple weeks ago, I was at a sports bar (I’m not sporty, but I like drinks and camaraderie) and on the screen was a story about the 20th anniversary of The Tanya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan debacle that occurred prior to the ’94 Lillehammer Olympics. Immediately I started rattling off names like Jeff Gilooly and details that normal people don’t have memorized. (like that Kerrigan’s mother was legally blind so she wore bright costumes so her mom could see her movements more easily.) My friend just looked at me strangely and said something to the effect of, “I can’t believe you know absolutely zero about sports, yet you know that.”
Well, I can believe it.
You know how they say you remember where you were when important events occurred: The Challenger Explosion, 9/11, etc. Well, for me, the day forever engraved in my memory is that dark day Nancy Kerrigan got whacked…A day that will live on in infamy…at least for this girl.
On “Whacking Day,” I was 11 and at a friend’s house practicing a very beginner dance routine to the song One Jump from Aladdin. (I am in a wheelchair and have zero rhythm, so I can only imagine that it looked flawless.) It came on the on her family’s TV set, and I seriously lost my mind. Nancy Kerrigan was my favorite. I was a preteen girl, and the Olympics were pretty much the only sport I got excited about (They still are.). To me, these figure skaters were pretty much the closest I would ever get to seeing a real life Disney Princess. (Nancy was clearly Belle. Sensible brunette. Heat of gold. Tanya was clearly one of the evil stepsisters in Cinderella or some scrunchy-wearing equivalent. )
Around this time in history, there were a lot of news stories bouncing around the satellites. This was right after the Clarence Thomas hearings and right before the OJ Simpson trial. My father watched CNN as if he needed it for survival, so it was always white noise in the background of my household…something I begrudgingly sat through waiting to snatch the remote and switch to Step By Step or Just the Ten of Us. The Gulf War. Branch Davidians. These were all very abstract concepts to a child, nothing on the news every resonated with me or could hold my attention…until the day Tanya Harding and her band of goons attacked Nancy Kerrigan during practice and you heard her scream the now infamous word over and over, “WHHHHHY!!!!”
From that moment, I was a girl obsessed. I had to watch every interview, every expose, every TV Movie on the subject. I probably wasn’t alone. There are lots of girls like me, girls that got swept up in the drama and the intrigue of watching Tanya Harding basically melt down before our very eyes when her skate lace broke during competition. We sat on pins and needles to see if Kerrigan would recover in time for the Lillehammer Olympics, which she did…and won silver. She might as well have skated to “Ain’t No one gonna break my stride. Ain’t no one gonna hold me down…oh no. I got to keep on moving” while undoubtedly giving double middle fingers to all her haters (i.e. Tanya and company).
Today I salute you, Nancy. You began my Olympic obsession. True, I may not know who is playing in bowl games or world series or know exactly what being a red shirt freshman even means, but I become a bonafide athletic expert every fourth February…all thanks to you.