THINGS HAVE EVER LOOKED BETTER for the Tonya Harding Fan Club of Portland, Ore., whose membership has soared to 2,000 from just 400 six months ago. Their hero is popping up just about everywhere these days—playing a spunky-celebrity manager at a pro-wrestling competition in Vancouver, Wash., three weeks ago; sitting for an interview by a Japanese business magazine this month; and dashing around some of Portland’s swanker neighborhoods lending the lawns.
About the only place her fans aren’t seeing Tonya Harding is on the ice. On June 30, while her home rink at the Clackamas Town Center near Portland was darkened for renovations, she was banned for life by the U.S. Figure Skating Association and stripped of the national championship she had won on Jan. 8—all stemming from the January clubbing attack on rival Nancy Kerrigan. “Tonya didn’t let it bother her too much,” says her father, Al Harding. “But then, she can cover up pretty good.”
So, while Kerrigan cashes in on the lucrative professional skating tour—and collects an estimated $11 million in endorsements—Harding, 23, has been planting shrubs and mowing lawns for a Portland-based landscaping company. The job is part of the three-year supervised probation she agreed to in a plea bargain struck with prosecutors on March 16. “I’m sure she’s disappointed and sad,” says Jason Sferlazza, 28, editor of the Tonya Harding Fan Club newsletter, “but she’ll gel on with her life.”
For now, that means seizing opportunities—no matter how weird—to pay off a $100,000 fine and a $10,000 reimbursement for the district attorney’s legal expenses (part of her penalty in the Kerrigan case), plus her own legal bills of $300,000. Harding accepted an undisclosed amount to appear at the recent pro-wrestling match, where she arrived in a white limousine, accompanied by her new boyfriend, Doug Lemon, 24, a warehouse worker at Portland’s Meier and Frank department store. (Lemon’s resemblance to Jeff Gillooly—who will be formally sentenced July 13 for his part in the Kerrigan attack—had Harding watchers thinking she had returned to her ex-husband.) “Tonya is skating once or twice a week,” says longtime family friend and adviser David Webber. “But she’s got offers for movies and endorsements. She has all kinds of potential.”
Harding has been invited to compete on American Gladiators, and she has sold the TV rights to her life story, tentatively entitled Tonya Harding, American Tragedy, for $50,000 (she’ll get another $450,000 if a movie is made). And this summer she will make her acting debut in a low-budget Hollywood feature called Breakaway, playing “a waitress who inadvertently makes off with a cache of money,” according to the press release.
But Harding’s most lucrative offers have come from Japan. Although she turned down a $2 million offer last March from the All-Japan Women’s Professional Wrestling Association, she was paid for the Japanese business magazine interview, and she has agreed to play against a young Japanese Ping-Pong star as part of a popular TV variety show. “They seem to like her,” says Harding’s new agent, Merrill Eichenberger.
Webber has another theory: “If she gels her act together,” he says, “she’s going to be a testament to the world that you can be nothing and become something.”
LORENZO BENET in Los Angeles and VICKIE BANE in Denver