Returning to the spotlight as a ‘Dancing With the Stars’ contestant, Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan reveals that life after her infamous 1994 attack was anything but golden.
In the the late 80s’ and early ’90s Nancy Kerrigan was a promising national championship figure skater, rising steadily up the ranks and consequently winning the Olympic bronze medal in 1992. The following year she was crowned the gold medalist at the U.S. National Championships.
But as Kerrigan prepared for the upcoming 1994 Olympics, her celebrity would soar to new heights when she was clubbed in the knee by an assailant hired by the ex-husband of rival U.S. skater Tonya Harding. The incident was called “The Whack Heard Round the World” and catapulted Kerrigan in the spotlight, for better and for worse.
While Americans were cheering her on to win gold at the 1994 Olympics (she ended up winning silver), Kerrigan started isolating herself to feel safe. With the media frenzy contributing to her sense of anxiety, she started eating less to feel in control of something, anything.
“I would avoid food because it was something I could do. I felt like I could control that and nothing else,” revealed Kerrigan in an interview with People. “I don’t know why but that seemed like an accomplishment. I didn’t realize what I was doing. I lost a whole bunch of weight before competing because I was working out for hours.”
Soon, Kerrigan developed, what she says, is something similar to an eating disorder. Although in time, she pulled out of her destructive behavior, she found herself returning to her scarce eating habits when the stress of raising a family and attending to her aging mother took its toll. However, once she realized her son Matthew was imitating her, she turned a corner.
“But then I saw my son doing the same thing. He was, like, ‘No, no, no. I’m not hungry. I’m fine. I’m fine,’ ” she said. “I was, like, ‘Oh. Give me a piece of that pizza. I better eat that because he’s watching me and doing what I’m doing. I’m doing that again.’ I’m so thankful for a logical brain because it could’ve gone such a different route.”
But Kerrigan’s hardships would not end there. Although she was able to give birth to her son Matthew in 1996, her hopes of having more children with her husband would come to a halt; for the next eight years she would experience six miscarriages.
In a tearful admission to her Dancing With the Stars dance partner Artem Chigvintsev, Kerrigan revealed the immense guilt she felt about not being able to carry a child to term. “It almost felt shameful I think, because I couldn’t do it on my own,” she told him.
In an interview with ABC, she also added: “People have babies every day…What did I do? It was my body. My body was failing and I don’t know why.”
But Kerrigan would go on to have more children. After undergoing in vitro fertilization, she had son Brian in 2005, and three years later, she would give birth to her daughter Nicole.
On Monday night’s Dancing With the Stars, Kerrigan dedicated her ballroom dance to her three kids. Her message to them? No matter what life throws out at you, never give up.
Outside of dancing, Kerrigan is also making use of her past experiences with problematic eating. She’s busy executive producing a documentary called Why Don’t You Lose 5 Pounds, to bring attention to athletes who suffer from eating disorders.