The 2018 Oscar nominations for I, Tonya sent me to my ancient clipping file to excavate a March 1994 essay I wrote about the controversial figure skater. The piece appeared in a reader-participation series featured in our local newspaper, called “My Inspiration.” Would my attitude toward the subject would be different today?
When I wrote the piece, Tonya Harding had not admitted any involvement in the attack against her skating rival, Nancy Kerrigan, but suspicions were high. Watching Harding’s performance at the Olympics, I saw her as an underdog who wouldn’t give up, even when many thought she should.
Years later, I still tend to root for the underdogs, those who are oftentimes the target for ridicule and spite. This statement needs qualifying, though. In truth, I’m inspired by the underdogs who show grit, persistence, and focus despite prejudice, unpopularity, and unproven accusations.
The 1994 essay appears in this blog, because I believe it still holds value. The words express the idea that a source of inspiration can spring from a most unlikely place, regardless of popular opinion. And in this case, Tonya Harding’s story still serves as my inspiration for the refusal to accept defeat.
Erie Morning News, March 1994
My latest source of inspiration has been found in someone who is very unpopular and is the current source of jokes and scorn.
I don’t know if Tonya Harding is guilty or innocent of planning the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. It’s not my place to speculate.
What I see in Tonya is an example of determination. Where the attack has placed Kerrigan in the limelight and in a wave of success, Harding has had nothing but criticism and misfortune since the incident. Through it all, she has maintained an admirable amount of composure with the media.
I’m inspired because she has continued working toward her goal, even though a troubled past and recent obstacles.
It’s easy to work for success when, like Kerrigan, you’re supported by millions of people; it’s a lot tougher when many are against you.
I saw Tonya frantically try to solve her boot-lace troubles on the last night of competition, having to stop her program after only 45 seconds and then plead with the judges for a delay.
My 10-year-old daughter was watching with me and I realized what a good example Harding was of determination in the face of adversity.
It’s easy for us to love Nancy Kerrigan. She’s beautiful and the darling of Campbell’s, Reebok, and Disney.
But if you look closely, you can find gold in someone like Tonya Harding.
Note: The byline reads Ann M. DeDad, because I had not yet taken back my maiden name.