TONYA HARDING FINDS HERSELF
BATTLE GROUND, Wash. — The world is moving fast these days for Tonya Harding — as fast or faster than her days as an Olympian and one of the most controversial figures in figure-skating history.
Over the past year, the Portland native has been the subject of a feature film and become a star on a television show, all the while living out her dream of being a mother.
"It's been a whirlwind, but it's been very exciting," says Harding, 47, her blue eyes beaming. "Who could have imagined that my life would have ended up on the big screen? Or that I would get the chance to do 'Dancing With the Stars'? I never could have imagined things could be like they are."
Harding is sitting with her husband, Joe Price, at a Mexican restaurant not far from the old farmhouse they have leased since moving from Bend almost five years ago. Tonya, wearing a T-shirt that reads, "Be the Love of Your Own Life," sips at a margarita and shares a plate of chips and salsa and a chicken enchilada with Joe, 50, whose name fits his Everyman persona.
For nearly 30 years, Price — a Prairie High graduate — worked in heating and air conditioning in southwest Washington.
"You name it," he says, "I can install it or sell it."
Now, though, he is a stay-at-home dad to their 7-year-old "miracle," Gordon, as Tonya works at being the family's bread-winner.
Harding hasn't made a fortune off her residuals from the movie, "I, Tonya," or from her appearance on "Dancing With the Stars," in which she reached the finals and showed the world a figure skater can dance, too — at least this one can.
But she has a new lease on life, and potentially, on a career, though she's not quite certain yet what that might be.
For the first time in maybe ever, Harding is carrying a positive self-image.
"I've been really happy since Joe and I got together, but this newfound me had been lost for so long," she says. "Now I feel good about me. When you walk around anywhere and you feel people are judging you and not liking you, then you don't like you.
"This has changed all that for me. Now I feel like I can walk with my head up high. Yes, there is always going to be somebody with something to say. It doesn't matter. I feel good about me. Our future will always be good, because we are always going to be together."
In the years since 1994, when she pleaded guilty to hindering the prosecution in the attack on rival figure skater Nancy Kerrigan and was banned for life by the U.S. Figure Skating Association, Harding has been pretty much in exile. She served no jail time. The bars she was behind were figurative ones, but they were there just the same.
Harding tried pro boxing; she was 3-3 in six bouts. For a while, she taught figure skating to kids at the Lloyd Center and loved it. She did landscaping, house painting, automobile maintenance — "anything to make ends meet," she says. For five years, she served as commentator for TruTV's "World's Dumbest," making fun of dimwits and bungling criminals, which seemed ironic, given her past.
By that time, she was living in a rural spot north of Battle Ground, skating for fun and enjoying outdoor pursuits and trying to find happiness in bits and pieces, hoping to be accepted but resigned to the role of an outcast.
Things began to turn around in 2010, when she joined some friends at Timbers Saloon in Amboy, Washington, for a night of karaoke. And soon Joe Price was at the microphone, belting out a version of Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire."
"Let me tell you," Harding says, "this man can sing. Seeing his smile and his eyes, I'm like, 'Wow, I wonder if this guy is single.'"
Price, divorced and the father of two children, was. And he was interested in the "cute blonde" who had wandered in.
"My girlfriend had been sitting next to Joe, and when she went to the bathroom, I took her seat," Harding says. "She comes back and says, 'You're in my seat." I say, "I know. I'm sitting next to the cute guy. You already have a guy.'
"Joe and I started talking. My first three questions were, 'Are you single? Do you have a job? Do you have kids?'"
Then there were more questions.
Says Tonya, laughing now: "What do you drive? Do you like to hunt and fish? Are you a city boy? If you are, it's OK, because I can train you otherwise."
Price wasn't well-acquainted with Harding's past.
"I knew very little about anything," he says. "But my mom knew all about her. She'd watched her skate on TV through the years."
"After that night," she says, "we never left each other's side. I knew God had brought him into my life."
Their personalities complement one another.
"He's the calm one," she says. "I'm the emotional one."
They fish together and watch NFL games — he likes the Seahawks, Vikings and Cowboys.
"I've always rooted for the underdog," she says, "but who doesn't like the Cowboys?"
On June 26, they will celebrate their eighth wedding anniversary.
"Can you believe it?" she asks. "He stayed with me."
Not only that, he made a baby with her in their first year of marriage.
"I was told by doctors I'd never have children," she says. "That's why our son is a miracle."
Gordon has just finished the first grade. The experience of motherhood has helped smooth Tonya's rough edges.
"Being a mommy has been the most wonderful thing in the whole world," she says. "God gave me my husband and a gift and said, 'OK, you've been through everything. This is the one thing you've always asked for.'
"It calms you down. I don't cuss quite as much. I have to try to make sure we eat at least a little bit healthy. And then just teaching our son the rights and the wrongs. Thank God I have Joe to help me to do those things.
"Our son has a little bit of my attitude, but Joe's brain. He loves swimming, baseball, football. He loves science and outer space and knows everything there is to know about fish. The way he looks at Mommy and Daddy every morning makes it worth it."
Being a mother is especially important to Tonya given the torn relationship with her own mother, LaVona Golden. Tonya, an only child, loved her father, Al Harding, who died in 2009. He gave her his love for the outdoors, for hunting and fishing and working on cars. Now, she has embraced Joe's family as her own.
"I don't have any of my own family except for my mother," Tonya says. "I gave up contact with her many years ago, and I'm not going to go back down that path. It's not worth it."
Soon after their son was born, the family moved to Sisters, "to try something different," Joe says. They stayed until the end of 2013, when they moved back to Battle Ground, mostly to be closer to Joe's family.
The call about the movie came out of the blue. Screenwriter Steven Rodgers had seen an ESPN documentary about the Harding/Kerrigan affair and found the story compelling. Tonya met with Rodgers and agreed to participate in the project for a $1,500 fee, plus a cut of the film's profits.
"I didn't have anything to lose," she says. "If it makes it, great. If it doesn't, it can't be any worse than it's been already."
Late last year, the film aired to mostly positive reviews. Sports Illustrated called it the best sports movie of 2017.
Margot Robbie played Tonya as an adult. Allison Janney portrayed Golden, Tonya's hard-drinking, chain-smoking, overbearing, abusive mother so superbly, she was honored at the Academy Awards and Golden Globes as best supporting actress.
"I really enjoyed it," Harding says now. "And 95 percent of it was the truth. People may think something is so crazy, there is no way it could have happened, but it did.
"My mother never smoked on the ice. I never had the opportunity to tell the judges to s—k my d—k in front of everyone, but that was great."
Did Golden really throw a knife that landed in Tonya's arm? Tonya shows the scar, time-worn, to prove it.
"Yes, she paid people off to try to make me mad (while skating)," Harding says. "I didn't know it at the time. The line about if I'm mad, I skate better, I never understood that. I loved skating. It pissed me off, but it didn't make me want me to do better. I wanted to do great just for me.
"I just wanted my mother to leave me alone and stop beating on me, dragging me to the bathroom, beating me with a hairbrush, to stop drinking."
The film depicted Golden as sipping alcohol-laced coffee while watching her daughter skate.
"Believe me, it was not brandy-flavoring," Tonya says. "It was brandy."
She tells a story about coming home from a competition in France when she was 11. She returned with a gift for her parents — a crystal replica of the Eiffel Tower filled with brandy.
"I thought it would be a great keepsake for my parents," she says. "My mother broke it open, drank it all and then shattered it."
The story was told primarily through the eyes of both Tonya and ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, who she says also was abusive to her during their three-year marriage.
"Everyone involved in the movie was interviewed for the film," she says. "I gave my interviews, and everybody else gave their interviews, and Steven wrote the movie based on the facts that were given to him."
Harding was satisfied with the results.
"I'm most happy and proud that, after so many years, the truth came out," she says. "God must be weighing on everybody who has been bad. My son will know as he grows up that his mother was never a cheater."
Robbie's performance, Harding says, "was wonderful. She's a good friend of mine now. We correspond all the time."
Janney, too, has become a good friend, Tonya says. Her performance was better than spot-on.
"I was like, 'Holy crap, is that my mother?'" she says. "She was that good."
During the "Dancing With the Stars" competition, Robbie, Janney and Rodgers all came to performances to show their support. So, too, did Mckenna Grace, who played the young Tonya in the film.
"During the final show, Mckenna gave me a gift," Tonya says. "I opened it up the next day. She gave me a card and this little box. It's a necklace and it looks like the Mirrorball (the trophy given to the winner). Right then and there, I put that on."
Harding chokes up at the memory.
"It gets me every time I think about it," she says. "It was so thoughtful. She is the most well-spoken little girl I've met in my life."
Joe and Tonya were in Hollywood for the premiere of the movie.
"It was really neat," she says. "I was scared, a little nervous, but Margot made me feel so much better. She was so warm. And Joe being able to be there with me to be part of this journey."
Not long after, Joe and Tonya attended the Golden Globe Awards in Hollywood, where "I, Tonya" was up for the award for best picture, musical or comedy. She wore a tight-fitting black gown as she walked through the press line.
"I was in five-inch stilletto heels in shag carpet, trying to walk in a dress that is painted on," she says. "My knees were shaking."
She spent time with Robbie and Janney and got to meet such celebrities as Tom Hanks, Sharon Stone and Hugh Jackman. "Unbelievable," she says, shaking her head.
Soon thereafter came the offer to participate in an all-athletes version of "Dancing With the Stars."
"When I got that call, I started bawling," she says. "I could not believe it. I'd wanted to do that for so many years. I love music, and I love performing, something I've not been able to do since 1994.
"I went out and bought a whole bunch of heels. I didn't know there was any difference between real heels and dancing heels. I started dancing and getting moving again and getting used to being in heels all the time."
Harding had taken jazz dancing lessons as a child, "to get the basics for on the ice," she says. As an adult, "I used to line dance with my girlfriend, or (with public relations assistant) Linda Lewis."
Harding and partner Sasha Farber hit it off immediately.
"Sasha was wonderful, as a dancer and as a partner," she says. "He always had a smile. I'm my hardest critic. Every time I was doing something that seems very easy and I had a rough time with it, I'd take a five or 10-minute break to cool myself down and compose myself. He was always there with a smile on his face and high-fives and hugs and telling me how good I was doing."
The 5-1 Harding was in decent shape going into the competition, but trimmed and toned and lost 12 pounds to get down to 120 pounds. "I found muscles I didn't know I had," she says.
Harding's skating background, she says, didn't help much.
"It's so different, from the hands and the head and my hips — oh my God, my hips — and not knowing how to move," she says. "When you're out on the floor dancing (for fun), you go with what you see on videos. It's not like that (in competition). Everything has to be planned and executed. And it's not just doing one thing. It's like a wave in the ocean. You don't ever stop."
Harding found herself mesmerized by the production of the show.
"Every time I walked into the studio, I was in awe with all the lights and everything," she says. "It was a lot of work. Every week, on Sunday and Monday, I'd get up at 4 or 5 o'clock. You do hair, makeup, film blocking for cameras, the beginning, ending of the show. There were a lot of hours of practice (with Farber). It's nonstop moving."
For the final three weeks of the show, she, Joe and Gordon stayed in Los Angeles.
"It was truly amazing," says Joe, who got to watch the production. "It was fun to be able to see her light up and do what she loves to do — perform. Everyone was really professional and courteous. The whole gang was just great."
Harding made it to the final show along with skater Adam Rippon and football player Josh Norman. She dazzled with her freestyle dancing, descending onto the stage from a JumboTron, using multiple flips and cartwheels to display her athleticism through 90 torrid seconds.
"We needed to go balls out," she says. "Anything and everything I could think of, I threw in."
Harding drew a standing ovation from the crowd and all of the contestants, along with straight 10s from the three judges and a hug from one of them, Carrie Ann Inaba. Tonya says she also felt the love from the ABC television audience.
"The amazing change in people's hearts is keeping me going," she told host Tom Bergeron through tears. "I never thought I would feel this alive again. America pulling for me has changed my heart one more time."
Harding finished third behind Rippon and Norman, which didn't dim her experience.
"I met so many wonderful people, and I got to do something where I performed," she says. "It made me feel alive. I got to perform for myself, my family and for America. It was the best thing that has happened to me in a long time. The light came back on."
Since the release of "I, Tonya," Neon Films has had Harding appear at several movie premieres, where she speaks to the audience and conducts question-and-answer sessions.
"I really enjoy talking to people and letting them know that life is too precious to throw it away," she says. "Always know that God put you here for a reason. You have to find that reason and believe in yourself and keep going, no matter what."
It could be that Harding's second 15 minutes of fame has ended, that such opportunities will not come again. She hopes that is not the case.
"I have no idea what is ahead," she says. "I'm looking for a new manager or agent — someone who will protect me and put me in the right shows or whatever comes our way. Linda and I can't do all this. We're not in that realm."
For now, Tonya and her family will remain in Southwest Washington, though her continued problems with asthma and allergies have made her strongly consider a move to a drier climate.
"We don't know when or where, but my health is not good here," she says. "We hope someday we'll be able to afford to buy some property and build our own home, probably in some place on the eastern side of the state. I love working outside and building fences and decks and doing yardwork and landscaping. But I love it here, too. It depends on life in itself and what comes our way."
Harding knows there are people who believe she was guilty of more than what she was charged with in the Kerrigan case and will never consider her worthy of more than their disdain.
"People may take it the wrong way, but if you like me, great, thank you," she says. "If you don't? Tough s—t. That sounds mean, but I don't care, because you're not part of my world.
"I love me. My family loves me. My friends love me. And now America has turned around and seen the real me and known the truth."