February 03, 1992 12:00 PM

NANCY KERRIGAN DEFTLY BRUSHES blue eye shadow on her mother Brenda’s closed lids, then smoothes the color with her forefinger. “Too small,” she teases, as she searches for lipstick in a suitcase still half-packed from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships a few days earlier.

“Too small!” repeats her mother. “She always makes fun of my eyes and lips,” says Brenda, her exaggerated look of pain softening into affection. “She picks on me.”

The teasing is as routine between the two women as the makeup session itself. It’s a sign of the closeness forged by the mother’s disability—Brenda, 51, is legally blind—and the countless hours the two have spent together as Nancy pursued her figure-skating dreams. “I’m proud of her,” says Brenda.

And well she might he. In three weeks, Nancy, 22—who combines the elegance of Peggy Fleming with the angular good looks of the young Katharine Hepburn—will be competing for an Olympic medal in Albertville, France. Together with Kristi Yamaguchi, 20, and Tonya Harding. 21, Kerrigan, who placed second at the nationals in Orlando, gives the U.S. its strongest women’s team in years.

Brenda will be there at Albertville, but not in the stands. She will be glued to a TV monitor. “I can’t see someone’s features unless I’m practically kissing them,” says Brenda, who is blind in her left eye and has only marginal sight in her right. “I get right up close to the monitor, and I know if Nancy does a jump. But I don’t know what kind of jump.”

Actually, she does know. Whenever Nancy has a new routine, she gives Brenda—and her dad, Daniel, 52—a preview in their Stoneham, Mass., home. “I do it out on the floor in the living room,” says Nancy, “with my arm movements, everything, so my mother can see it.”

A tight-knit family, the Kerrigans seem to do everything together. They still live in the same two-story wood-frame house where Nancy grew up. Brenda’s parents, who live two doors away, still prepare Sunday breakfast for the extended family. And Nancy still skates at the neighborhood rink, two blocks over, where her older brothers, Mark, 27, and Michael, 25, learned to play hockey.

Nancy, who first laced up at 6, was a figure-skating star from the start. winning local, then regional championships. But the business of becoming a world-class skater was grueling—especially in her teens when Nancy had to get up at 4 A.M. to practice before going off to Stoneham High. There were financial considerations too. To pay her coaching fees, Daniel, a welder, has also worked odd jobs and has taken out tens of thousands of dollars in loans over the years. “Since Nancy started skating.” he says, “the family hasn’t been on a real vacation. We go to skating events.”

Her parents’ sacrifices, admits Nancy, “made me feel guilty. I feel like everything they did was for me. It’s scary when they are spending so much money and you don’t know what you will get for it.”

“Yeah, we don’t know why we did it.” Brenda is doing the teasing this time, but there is an element to her daughters success that still eludes her. “I never dreamed it would be like this,” says Brenda, her eyes brimming with tears. “The whole thing is so mind-boggling. All I can say is, ‘Wow’—just ‘Wow!’ ”

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