Al Messerschmidt/AP; Donald Kravitz/Getty Images
Steve Helling
December 22, 2017 01:13 PM

Ed. Note: This article originally appeared on Oct. 17, before the December premiere of the movie I, Tonya, starring Margot Robbie.

It hasn’t been an easy road for Tonya Harding.

Seven weeks before the 1994 Olympic Winter Games, her skating rival, Nancy Kerrigan, was clubbed on the knee by an assailant. Authorities soon determined that Harding and her husband, Jeff Gillooly, had allegedly hired the attacker. The ensuing scandal became an international sensation.

For the media, the narrative was perfect: Kerrigan was the pretty, poised, innocent victim. Harding was the rough-around-the-edges assailant from the wrong side of the tracks.

Harding long disputed her involvement, but was eventually convicted of hindering the investigation into the incident. She received three years probation, 500 hours of community service, and a $160,000 fine — and was ultimately banned from the U.S. Figure Skating Association for life.

But Harding will soon return to the public consciousness. She’s the subject of I, Tonya, an upcoming  biopic starring Margot Robbie that will be released in December.

Andreas Altwein/AP

“Tonya is getting ready to be seen again,” a friend of the former skater tells PEOPLE exclusively. “She’s eating well and has lost some weight. She’s getting in shape and is even skating again. She’s really excited about this.”

Why would Harding, 46, embrace a biopic about the darkest days of her life? For one thing, she’s a fan of Robbie, who recently told W magazine that she identifies with Harding. “The more I became Tonya, the more I saw things from her point of view,” Robbie told the magazine. “I’m on her side 100 percent. I don’t think she did anything but be different from what the world wanted. She didn’t fit in. And I love that.”

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“Tonya is a good person,” the friend insists. “And she’s looking forward to having her story told sympathetically. She knows she’s not a saint, and doesn’t expect to be shown that way. But all she has ever wanted was for people to look beyond the headlines and see that she’s a real person who hasn’t gotten a lot of breaks in life.”

AP Photo/Jack Smith

Life after the scandal has proven difficult for Harding. According to a 2008 PEOPLE profile, she once allegedly attempted suicide. She also released a sex tape with Gillooly, and appeared on Fox’s Celebrity Boxing in 2002, competing against Paula Jones, the former Arkansas state employee who sued President Bill Clinton for sexual harassment.

Harding herself has remorse about the Kerrigan scandal. “Of course I feel guilty for what happened,” she said in the 2008 PEOPLE profile, “But I can’t dwell. I have to go on living.”

“This is a big moment for her,” the friend adds. “She has apologized again and again for something she did when she was 22 — something wrong and stupid. But she’s a woman in her 40s now, and she’s ready to reclaim her story.”

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