“I’m a Magnet for Idiots”

Tonya Harding was once a great ice skater. Right before the 1994 Olympics, her ex-husband hired a thug to attack her competitor, Nancy Kerrigan. It became one of the most infamous incidents in sports history. Harding was banned for life. Now, at the age of 38, she tells her side of the story.

By Peter Hossli

tonya_harding2.jpgMs. Harding, we’re meeting in a hotel, not in your home. Why?
Tonya Harding: I live in the woods, and I really cherish my privacy.

Apparently you rent your home under a different name. What are you afraid of?
Harding: That’s not true. Of course, there are people out there, terrorists, and you never know. But I can’t live my life in fear.

How do you live your life?
Harding: I live in a small house. I rent my home. And I enjoy hunting and fishing.

How do you hunt?
Harding: I’m an archery hunter, and I hunt for the meat. I hunt deer and elk. A deer can last me up to six months. I have not gotten a deer or an elk this year, but I have gotten three deer before. I have never got-ten an elk.

You’d probably be more successful using a rifle.
Harding: Because of my felony conviction, I can’t legally touch a shotgun.

You beat a former boyfriend with a hubcap and got three days of jail.
Harding: Yeah. But also, just walking out into the woods and shooting something with a gun is not exciting. With archery, you have to be precise. You have to know the distance of how far you’re shooting. It makes it more of a challenge, which I enjoy.

Have you been a hunter all your life?
Harding: Yes. My father taught me when I was three years old. So it’s been in the family, doing that, for many, many, years.

You’ve just published a book, in which you talk about your life. What did you want to say, that wasn’t al-ready known?
Harding: I wanted people to understand me, and learn my life history. And what I had gone through. I had the rollercoaster ride of being abused my whole, entire life, by many different people.

You’re known as an ice skater whose husband attacked your former competitor Nancy Kerrigan. What else is important?
Harding: As a child, I was being molested. I was being beaten up, my whole life, by my mother. Then I was molested, and beaten up by my husband, and ex-husband and his buddies. Each man that I have been with – which, believe me, was not many – has abused me, physically and mentally, too. It was a pattern that needed to stop. The only way it’s going to stop is if I get a handle on what my life is.

hossli_harding.jpgSo you needed to talk about it in a book?
Harding: It took me over five years, to finally come out and tell the whole story. It still is very hard to deal with, every day. It’s a healing process. And it’s not that you forgive or forget. But I can deal with it. And I can go on and be happy, instead of it just weighing me down, being afraid of life, and being afraid of peo-ple.

Why did it take you so long to talk about it?
Harding: I put myself behind a wall. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I was feeling ashamed, all the time. People would say, “How’d you get your black eye?” “Oh, well, I fell down.” Or, “I hit it on the cupboard,” or something like that. And of course that was a lie. I was being abused. And not only physically, but mentally abused, in every way.

You write that your ex-husband and his friend’s gang raped you in 1994 after the Nancy Kerrigan incident. Why did they do that?
They wanted to frighten me so I would protect them in court. They succeeded.

How could you be quiet about it for so long?
Harding: I was ashamed, did not know whom to trust, and did not know whether it would make a difference. Would it make me feel better if I told somebody or not? It was really difficult to actually just come out and say it.

You’re ex-husband denies the allegation. Why is he not arrested?
Harding: I’m not pressing charges.

Why don’t you want to see the people that brutalized you behind bars?
Harding: Because it’s done and over with. I don’t want to relive it, every single day of the rest of my life. It’s something that happened in my life that just has to basically go away. To have to relive it, every single day, would probably drag me back down even further than I was before.

You write that they raped you at gunpoint, and you wished they had pulled the trigger. You wanted to die?
Harding: When you’re a woman, and you just had your womanhood taken away from you – wouldn’t you rather just die? Than have to face it?

harding_kerrigan.jpgThe apparent brutal rape happened after the incident with Nancy Kerrigan. There was so much psychologi-cal pressure on you paired with the brutal force that came upon you. Was it a combination of all this, that made you want to die?
Harding: I try not to analyze it too much. It makes my heart hurt again. Like I said, it’s a healing process, and it doesn’t just go away. I believe I was put here for a reason. Obviously, I didn’t die.

You always ran into these men who abused you. Do you know why that is?
Harding: I’m just a magnet for idiots. I always wanted someone to love me. And when I’ve met these peo-ple – they treat you good, and everything’s great for a little while. And then all of a sudden – boom. Things start to change. I didn’t want somebody to love me because I’m Tonya Harding, but to love me because I’m Tonya, the person who likes to go out in the woods, and the person who likes to dress up as a girl sometimes and wear a pretty dress. Just – me. I’ve never come across that.

Why has nobody ever loved you for who you are?
Harding: People seem to think that I have lots of money. I don’t. I work every single month to pay my bills. When they find out I don’t have money they turn away. I have my own mind – I may be blond, and have been hit in the head a lot, from boxing – but I’m not dumb.

Obviously, you’re not dumb.
Harding: And I have a very strong sense of self. I love me. Because you have to love yourself before you can love anyone else. And a lot of people don’t like the fact – even the judges, when I was younger – didn’t like the fact that I had a brain. They didn’t like that I stood out. I wanted the music that fit me; I didn’t want to skate to all the prissy music that everybody else skated to. I couldn’t afford expensive costumes. So I made my own. Judges didn’t like the color of them, and things like that. I always had a mouth. I say what I think. I think that it’s better to be honest and say what’s on your mind, than to – excuse me – bull-shit around it.

In January of 1994, Nancy Kerrigan’s knee was attacked. It later turned out that your ex-husband was be-hind it. What led to the attack?
Harding: My ex-husband and his buddies wanting money led to it. They had some security business. And they thought, “If skaters get attacked” — or something like that — “then maybe they’ll hire my company to be the security company. To protect them.” Well, that’s just asinine – excuse me – but it is. Every com-petition has its own security.

So they were a bit dumb?
Harding: You think? I mean, there’s nothing I can really say, except that they were absolutely stupid.

How did you find out about the attack?
Harding: I actually found out – not the whole thing, but bits and pieces, a couple of days after I got back. And even to this day, my ex-husband has never admitted to me that he did it.

What should you have done differently?
Harding: When I heard about it the very first time it was actually at the competition. My coach had come in, woke me up, and told me about it. And I was basically scared shitless. Sorry, I have a truck driver mouth.

Don’t worry about that
Harding: I had a practice later that evening. I couldn’t skate, hardly, at all. I couldn’t concentrate, nothing. And my coach sat me down, and she said, “Listen. You’ve worked hard for this. You know you can do this. If you don’t pull your shit together, you’re not going to make it. You’re not going to do it. You have to concentrate.” You know? “Let yourself go out there, and do what you’ve been practicing and training to do, for all of these years.”

When did you realize that it was your husband?
Harding: When I got taken up into the hills, and I got a gun put to my head. It told me exactly what’s going on. And who’s in charge, and who is not.

You and Miss Kerrigan were both poised to win the Olympic gold medal.
Harding: A lot of people say things like that. Figure skating is a luck sport. You can work and be perfect, every day of your life. And you can step out on that ice, your boot doesn’t feel good, the ice is too hard, too soft – you know – your dress is going up your rear, you got beads that are scratching you. If you’re female, maybe it’s that time of the month. There are so many different variations. You can step out there and be perfect. But you can step out there and be stumbling all over yourself.

How confident were you that you could win the Olympic gold medal in 1994?
Harding: I was confident that I could be one of the top three, anyway. I was ready, completely ready. Like I said, though, it’s luck. I could’ve stepped out on that ice, and fallen all over the place.

Which of your competitors did you fear the most? Was it Nancy Kerrigan?
Harding: I didn’t fear any competitor. I’m not there, competing against them. I’m there to show the judges what I can do. If you want to go out and be the best, you have to go out and be the best — prove that you’re the best.

The incident created enormous media frenzy. How does a 23-year old person cope with this?
Harding: I didn’t.

Still, you competed at the 1994 Olympics.
Harding: I had that right to show the world that I was one of the best. My entire life people were telling me, “You’re fat. You’re ugly. You’ll never be anything. You’ll never amount to anything. You’re just poor, white trash.” I always wanted to prove that I can be something. I knew that I was one of the best skaters in the world.

You ended in eighth place. Kerrigan was second. After the Olympics you were convicted for hindering the investigation of the people who attacked Nancy Kerrigan. You were barred from skating for life.
Harding: My whole, entire life was taken away from me. I started skating at the age of three. Skating was my life. Twenty years of skating. I always wanted to be in shows like Disney on Ice, or the Ice Capades. To have it taken away from me by someone else was devastating.

tonya_ice.jpgWhen did you find out that you really loved skating?
Harding: When I was three years old. I loved it when I was a child. I wanted to skate. I think there were only two times I wanted to quit. And that’s just because I was frustrated. It lasted about a day and a half or two days. And I’m right back to the rink, again. I knew God gave me a talent.

What is it that you like about skating?
Harding: I like the strength and the power and the feminine part, too. But I never really had that. I love jumping and going fast. And it was all about me. I was doing it. It wasn’t anybody else doing it. Yes, my coach taught me. But it was all up to me, nobody else; not a car, not a horse, not a partner. It was me.

You were abused all your life, and in the rink nobody could get hold of you?
Harding: It was my sanctuary. It was the one place that I had true love. Many people forget that every sin-gle person is good at something. I wanted to be good at something. And that’s what pushed me. I knew at a young age that I was good. I was always going ahead of all the other girls that were below me, and kept getting further and further, and getting better and better. I wanted to be great. When my mother said, “You’re terrible. You’re horrible. You’ll never be anything.” I could say, “Yes, I am.” And if I were to see her, right here, today, I’d say, “I am. I’m successful.”

How good are you still?
Harding: I can step out on the ice right now. This is how much God gave me the talent. I can step out on the ice and in 15 minutes, be doing my doubles. And I haven’t been on the ice, now, for six, seven months again. Give me a couple of days – five days – I’ll be back, doing triples.

How important was winning for you?
Harding: It wasn’t about the winning. It was about going out and doing the best that I could. Everybody likes to win. And when I lost, I didn’t train hard enough.

You seem to truly love skating. What did it mean to you when you were not allowed to do that anymore?
Harding: It was absolutely devastating. I still get emails from all over the world from people who want to see me skate again. But until somebody steps up to the plate, and takes that risk of putting me on their show, it’ll probably never happen. But if somebody called me right here today, and said, “OK – we have a show for you next week, and we need two programs.” I would be ready by next week, believe me.

Why is nobody calling you?
Harding: Because the Skaters Association has stated that anyone who skates with me would be reprimanded.

Mike Tyson got other chances. Even O.J. got another chance. Why not Tonya Harding?
Harding: Probably because a lot of people can’t tell that I’ve lost all the weight. A couple of times that I was on TV, I was very heavy. I skated in New York, did a little skate around, an exhibition-type thing, and I was quite a bit heavier than I am now, like twenty pounds heavier. They don’t want somebody that’s heavyset, out there, skating around, embarrassing them.

How was it, being fat?
Harding: People treated me differently, because I looked different. And I never knew that until it happened to me. But once the medicine wore off and was out of the system, then the weight was just coming off. And so now I’m back to being me. And I always wanted to be just like me. People treat me, again, with re-spect. And I think that I look really good.

You look great, yeah.
Harding: I’m very happy, at the weight that I’m at. I’m at 120, 121. And – it goes up and down, between two and three.

When you were skating, ice-skating was a huge sport in the U.S. with a very high rating. Why is that over?
Harding: It’s all the same people. It’s all the same kinds of shows. Everybody has seen the skaters. What I say is, “Bring me in.” Do a different type of a show.

What would you do differently?
Harding: I don’t want to give that up. I have several ideas for shows. If somebody is ever really willing to listen, then I’ll put together a show. I’ll put together the skaters that will skate with me. Believe me, there’s a lot of skaters out there that will skate with me. And they would love to do a great show. If somebody puts up a show with me, I can guarantee you I will make you money. You won’t lose your money. I’ll make it big enough and make it exciting. I’m there.

What did it take to reinvent you?
Harding: Faith, trust, love and all of myself. There have been so many times that I just wanted to give up on life. And then I look at it and go, “What the hell am I thinking?” You know? Life is precious. I’m here for some reason. And there are so many people out there who don’t have a home over their heads, who don’t have a car to drive and who hardly have any food. What the hell am I complaining about? Sure – I don’t get to skate anymore. Well, boo-hoo. I’m glad to be alive. I’m glad to be living my life. Because I live it like it’s the last day.

You’re 38, but you’ve experienced more in your life.
Harding: I know. I look pretty good for 90, huh? I’ve hit rock bottom, several times in my life.

Is it difficult for you to get older?
Harding: No. A couple of years back, I had gotten real sick. They put me on medicine that made me gain 48 pounds in less than two months. Imagine me, walking around looking like a twenty-five gallon drum. Because the medicine was in the system for almost two years, there wasn’t anything I could do about it.

You live with the burden of being “Tonya Harding”. The name is a mostly negative icon.
Harding: OK, but without my name, I wouldn’t be anyone. Things happen in life for a reason. People come and see me, to get my autograph, because they want to meet me, because they like me.

The mainstream media still makes fun of you. When Hillary Clinton was attacking Barack Obama during the campaign, they said, “She’s pulling a Tonya Harding on him.” They meant she wants to destroy him so he cannot be president.
Harding: That was pretty shitty. They have a country to run. There are so many problems in the world that they had to bring up my name? On the other hand, how many people heard the name, “Tonya Harding?” Whether it was in a bad context, or whether it would be in a good context, they still heard of me, heard my name. Whether my name is thrown out there in a good way or a bad way, it really doesn’t matter. I am the most important. I have to take care of me. I have to be number one.

Why did you marry at 19?
Harding: My father left me, and I was with my mother, who beat me constantly. She and her new husband were terrible. I didn’t want to be around them. Marrying was an escape, to get away from that life and start a new life. I always wanted to be loved. I wanted to someday have a family.

You had so much talent and got in so much trouble. Why is that?
Harding: I was young, naïve, and never had any direction in my life. My parents really didn’t have the knowledge of how to guide a child, except, you know, in hunting and fishing. I had an alcoholic mother that beat me. I did not have people in my childhood that actually had a brain.

It must have been rough coming from this background into the “princess world” of ice-skating.
Harding: I hated being feminine. I liked the strength, the jumps, the speed, the spins and the footwork.I liked the fast music. I didn’t like the delicate, little, pretty music.

A lot of people got rich from your scandal. What did you get out of it?
Harding: Nothing. I did my book. I have my brain. I have a heart. I have a life. I’m happy. No matter what has happened to me in my life, I’m happy. I’m wiser. And – believe me, it took a long time. But I do what it takes to succeed in life. I’ll sure as hell give it a darn good try. I even tried boxing.

Did you actually like it? Or was it just for the money?
Harding: Well, I had had an opportunity to drive a racecar. And I’m thinking, “Okay, it would be really fun to go fast.” But racing is not a woman’s sport. Boxing is not a woman’s sport, yet, women are getting into it. And women tend to bring in more men to watch because it’s a catfight. I can make a little money, and box-ing kept me in really good shape.

You boxed against Bill Clinton’s presumed lover Paula Jones, which is kind of a freak show, don’t you think?
Harding: It put food on my table; it kept my roof over my head. I am trying to survive in a world that pretty much sucks, most of the time. Whether I look like crap doing it, at least I did it.

How much of a struggle is it for you today to make a living?
Harding: Sometimes it’s difficult. You know, it just depends on the years. One year – I can make enough that I’m comfortable for the year and have a little bit saved away for a rainy day. Last year was bad for everyone, and it was also bad for me. I had a Jeep that I ended up selling because I couldn’t keep up with my rent.

What does money mean to you?
Harding: Money means having a roof over my head and bones for the dog. I take care of me. I take care of the puppy. I don’t need fancy things. I have a 1960 Jeep Willys and a Jessie Duke farm truck which has two-wheel drive. I bought it for five hundred bucks. It hauls gravel and wood.and serves its purpose. I have my little baby car that I bought for $350, and it gets me back and forth to the airport. I shop at Wal-Mart and Roth’s. I don’t need to go to Nordstrom’s or Macy’s. I don’t need expensive sports cars and stuff. I rent my house.

How do you generate income?
Harding: I work in television for truTV as a commentator, along with many other celebrities. The programs are on the dumbest criminals, dumbest competitions, and dumbest drivers. Nothing is scripted. I always have to come up with new things to say, and sometimes it gets pretty difficult. But the fun part is that I’m supposed to be making fun of people, or saying “What the heck do you think you’re doing?” instead of people doing that to me.

So it’s the opposite of your real life. Are you tired of people making fun about you?
Harding: People only make fun of me if I do something stupid.

When you went through all these troubles what kind of support did you get from your family?
Harding: None. My father tried. My mother was a complete jackass – excuse me – and always will be. She has not been in my life for years. I tried to forgive, forget, whatever, and bring her back into my life. And it only took one day to say no. Bye-bye. That’s it, I’m done. I tried, and I will never try again.

Do you ever speak with Nancy Kerrigan?
Harding: Not in years. I have seen her on the skating shows and things like that. She has a great family. She has a wonderful life. That’s exciting for her.

Did you apologize to her?
Harding: I apologized lots.

Did she ever accept that?
Harding: I don’t know. I have no idea. But that’s Okay. It’s off my shoulders. She’s happy. I’m happy. We live our separate lives. People continually say, “Oh, well, maybe she’ll want to do this with you,” or “She’ll want to do that for you. I know it’ll be big ratings,” and everything. It’s like, “You know what? Leave it alone.” We were friends a long time ago. We were competitors, and then all the crap happened, and – noth-ing. But she has her life, and I have mine.

Would you want this to be a closer relationship?
Harding: No. I’m perfectly fine, the way my life is. And I’m sure that she is, too. I just am really sorry that it did have to end that way, and that there is nothing there. But that’s what life is. Sometimes things just happen, and it’s done.

Are you happy now?
Harding: I’m real happy with my life. I’m not married, or anything –no intentions on it any time soon. I don’t have children. I have a dog – I showed you the picture. And I just really enjoy life. I have a very select few friends. I have lots of acquaintances. But I’m very happy in life now.