When Tonya Harding‘s father passed away nearly a decade ago, she said goodbye to both a dear family member and her best friend.
“I lost my dad nine years ago,” Harding, 47, said on Monday’s episode of Dancing with the Stars: Athletes. “When I lost my dad, I lost my very best friend. I was definitely daddy’s little girl.”
During the semifinals episode of the reality dance competition, each of the six remaining contestants were asked to share about the most valuable person in their life. For the former figure-skating Olympian, that person was her late father, Al Harding.
“I mean, my dad just gave me 100 percent unconditional love. When I was young, my dad had to leave — he never abandoned me. We talked every single day. My dad would come to my competitions. He was always there for me. He loved his little girl. And I love him,” she shared.
Although Harding has long had a strained relationship with her allegedly abusive mother, LaVona Golden — which was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film I, Tonya — she credited her dad for always being supportive, even at the height of her controversy.
It was later revealed that the ex-husband and bodyguard of fellow skater Harding worked together to hire someone to attack rival skater Kerrigan. Though Harding long disputed her involvement, she 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.
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But as Harding learned to navigate life in the wake of her scandal, she had the unwavering support of her father.
“When everybody in the world was against me, my dad was still in my corner — no matter what,” she shared.
In the time since the ordeal — known as the cry heard ’round the world — took place more than 20 years ago, Harding has gotten remarried and has become a mother. In 2010, she wed Joseph Jens Price, with whom she shares 7-year-old son, Gordon Price.
“He never got to meet my husband, he never got to see me have a son,” she tearfully shared, “and to see me here, he would be crying like me.”
“I totally miss my dad so much, but I know he’s going to be watching and have a smile on his face,” she said of performing her rumba with pro partner Sasha Farber. “Dad, I love you and I miss you and this dance is for you.”
After her emotional dance — which was awarded a 33/40 from the judges — a tearful Harding admitted that she misses him daily, “but he’s a part of me.”
“I brought him onto the dance floor to show everybody what real love is — stop hate,” she said.
Of the public support she’s received from viewers throughout her time on DWTS: Athletes, Harding, who will compete on the finale, said, “It’s been truly amazing. Thank you, America. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”
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After Monday night’s live show, Harding told reporters that she knew her dad would be proud of her.
“My dad’s really happy,” she said. “I know because he was out there on the floor with us.”
In order to get through the dance, Harding said she turned to Farber for assurance.
“He was squeezing my hand saying, ‘It’s okay. Take a deep breath and just go with it,'” she said. “I really wanted to honor my father.”
The Dancing with the Stars: Athletes finale airs Monday, May 21 at 8 p.m ET on ABC.