The Trouble with Tonya

Last night I stayed up to watch ESPNs 30 on 30 film about Tonya Harding. I remembered that time period very well, and at the time I was on Team Kerrigan because…who wasn’t? I felt that if you do something like orchestrate bodily harm to a fellow athlete than you should be punished. I saw the black and white as many others did. I was curious to see Tonya’s side of the story. I did not expect what happened next.

I felt for her. I understood her. I could see exactly where she was coming from and identified with her. Tomboy who didn’t fit in, who didn’t for the mold and didn’t even try to. Seeing the early films of her growing talent astounded me. To have that kind of talent and to rise up through competitions with hardly any money amazed me.

Figure skating is expensive. I was looking for skates and found myself browsing Jackson and Riedells in the $300 range. Then I reminded myself that I haven’t skated competitively since 1984 and an amateur pair is fine. I would go to lessons twice a week and skate on the weekends. My toes cramped into the tight leather, 3 pairs of socks, leg warmers and tights under the jeans. I loved every minute of being on that ice. Spinning, spirals, toe loops and figures made me feel graceful, if only in my mind . The other girls who were petite had the grace I wanted. After catching a glimpse of my reflection off the glass I realized that I was not what I saw in my mind as I went through the movements. I can still feel my face get hot . Unlike Tonya, after I lost at a competition, I didn’t use it as fuel for an ambitious fire. Instead I used it as an excuse to quit. I stopped skating and proceeded onto a downward spiral that would eventually lead me to my lovely alcohol addiction. It started when I left a piece of myself on the ice and it stopped 11 years later.
Tonya wanted to be a world champion. She had the talent to do it and if she only allowed for a tiny bit of conformity, she could have been an incredible skater. Instead, she allowed her insecurities make decisions for her . She didn’t bow to the judges wishes or follow their suggestions because dammit, she was going to show them with that triple axle! That stubbornness took that championship away and pushed her goals out of reach. I understand how that works. I have been Tonya in various situations that I have become my own worst enemy.
And in the end, she also lost the ice. She can never skate again. She can never make a career from it . She can’t teach, she can’t coach and I am sure putting on a pair is mentally agonizing. Yes, she did it to herself. No one who orchestrates such a disaster should get away with it. I still think they shouldn’t have allowed her to compete because the real reason they let her go was because of the publicity, not for competition. She had robbed herself before it began.
I can relate to all of this- her jealousy, her need to be like everyone else but demanding people accept her for who she was, and her love of skating. At the end of the documentary she tells the camera that she is banned from skating. Her face said that she didn’t care – that her husband and son were enough to make her happy. Her eyes said something else.

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