Olympic great Nancy Kerrigan on staying fit at 52: 'I'm still very capable'
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Nancy Kerrigan acknowledges that she will "forever be linked" to her 1994 attack ahead of the Winter Olympics, but it's worth remembering that the famed figure skater was a household name in her own right long before that scandal, having already earned a bronze medal at the 1992 Winter Games and winning the 1993 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships. Kerrigan recovered from her injuries in time to secure a silver in Lillehammer less than two months after an assailant hired by Jeff Gillooly, the ex-husband of fellow Team USA skater Tonya Harding, struck her with a police baton. The Massachusetts native then went on to host Saturday Night Live the following month, turning pro shortly thereafter.
Nearly three decades later, Kerrigan, now 52, is back to reclaim her Olympic roots. The figure skater has teamed up with iFit, leading online workouts as part of the fitness app's Winter Champion series.
"It was just fun to be part of something so new and different and be able to exercise with people," says Kerrigan, who guides fitness buffs through four elliptical workouts as part of the partnership. Though her competition days are over — aside from the odd stint on Dancing With the Stars, where she consistently received high judging scores during Season 24 — the mom of three says that staying fit is crucial to helping her feel more focused and productive. But it's not without its challenges now that she's in her 50s and juggling the demands of a busy family life.
"It's definitely a challenge for me to face reality that I'm not 25 and I can't stretch as far as I used to and I can't move as easily," she says with a laugh. "But if I stop moving, which I've done — I take time off and I don't do anything — I feel worse. I feel it's harder to move. Everything's a little more challenging. So it's important to keep going."
While she notes that maintaining "a strong, healthy body in your 50s is not easy," committing to exercise and a healthy diet has helped her get there.
"I think my body in my 50s has made me just appreciative that I can still move," Kerrigan says. "I can still do things — and I want to.
"I'm still very capable," she adds. "I do realize that people don't expect me to perform as I did when I was in my 20s or even 30. Facing that reality is definitely a challenge because I have a very competitive brain still, but to be able to perform and to be able to still be athletic … it feels good."
Looking back on her figure skating career, Kerrigan admits that she doesn't miss competing at such a high level. But she's proud of all that she's accomplished, especially in light of the shocking attack that's been chronicled in the 2017 film I, Tonya.
"My name will be forever linked to being attacked and with Tonya Harding and the whole incident that happened in 1994," she says. "But I think people forget [that] I was just basically a bystander that was injured; somebody injured me. I was just training and skating and doing what I do."
She credits her "great support system" with helping her get back in fighting shape for the Winter Olympics just seven weeks later. The incident brought "notoriety" to figure skating, but she chooses to focus on the more uplifting lessons she's learned from it.
"I was able to do something positive out of it instead of looking at the negative side," she says, adding that the attack was so long ago that it "almost feels like [it happened to] a different person at this point."
How she handled the attack "could have gone a different way," she notes. "How many people would want to put their children into a sport that seems dangerous and negative and you know, people are attacking each other?" Instead, she focuses on the message of "resilience" that she shared by coming back to compete.
"It shows you the hard work, the ethic, all these other aspects that you're like, 'Oh, OK ... that's the good side,'" she says.
Ultimately, Kerrigan chooses to "move forward" from the ordeal. She won't respond to, and seldom even reads, comments from online trolls ribbing her over the Harding drama or picking apart remarks she made back in the '90s.
"[They'll write] 'I can't believe you said this' and I'm like, wait, I was 24 years old," she says. "Like, that's almost 30 years ago."
Some of the direct messages she receives can be "really cruel," she adds, calling social media a "vehicle for people to just say whatever they want." She refuses to take the bait.
"I don't see a benefit in life to be negative toward other people," Kerrigan continues. "You have to just try and forget it; know who your group is, know who your support system is. They believe in you."
Speaking of support systems, Kerrigan is currently working on developing a film that stresses the importance of friendship between young female figure skaters competing against one another. It's all part of her greater goal to leave behind a legacy that's built on positivity, not notoriety.
"I would like to be true to who I am," she says. "I think that's an empathetic, kind, thoughtful person."
—Video produced by Stacy Jackman.
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