From Victories on Ice to the Infamous Incident, Nancy Kerrigan's Ups & Downs
"I've been through a lot," Nancy Kerrigan told PEOPLE in 2017. But "it's been totally worth it." Talk about an understatement: the figure skating darling who grew up playing street hockey with her brothers in Stoneham, Massachusetts, saw her career wise, suffered an attack at the hands of her rival's friends, endured an eating disorder and later in life, six miscarriages, and the tragic loss of her father in 2010. But through it all, she's persevered.
Kerrigan's passion for skating — which she "took to pretty easily" when her parents enrolled her in group figure-skating classes at age 6 — quickly became her top priority. As she began competing on a national level in high school, "I missed out on a lot," said Kerrigan. "But I knew if I didn't go for it, I'd regret it."
She qualified for the 1992 Olympics, where she won bronze (fellow American and friend Kristi Yamaguchi took home the gold) and focused on making it to the 1994 games, racking up major endorsements with brands like Campbell's Soup, Evian and Reebok along the way.
But her plans were almost derailed in January of 1994, when a man hired by the ex-husband of her competitor, Tonya Harding, whacked her in the knee with a baton as she was leaving Detroit's Cobo Arena at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The attack went down in history and has followed her through life, and she was forced to withdraw from the U.S. Championships, however, she earned a place on the 1994 Olympic team and went on to win the silver medal (Harding, for her part, placed eighth).
The 1994 Olympics, however, weren't as purely joyful as the 1992 games. "I was being followed around by the media and everything. It was uncomfortable," she told PEOPLE. "People in the Olympic Village cafeteria would look at me like I had a couple of heads."
So instead of eating with other Olympians, Kerrigan — who says she developed an eating disorder as she coped with the stress of the attention — began eating lunch with Jerry Solomon, who was her manager. "He didn't look at me like I was crazy like everyone else did," she said. He also helped with the disordered eating she says was "something I felt like I could control when everything else was out of control. Jerry would say, 'Just eat two more bites.' It slowly became easier."
Following the 1994 games, the much-beloved Kerrigan went to Disney World, where she appeared in a parade alongside Mickey Mouse. A hot mic, however, seemingly caught her saying, "This is dumb. I hate it. This is the corniest thing I have ever done."
The comments tarnished her reputation, though she did later clarify, saying it wasn't the parade that was cheesy, but flaunting her medal and her fame. "It was always not okay to do something like that. That's bragging," she told NBC in 2014. "Someone took that as I was talking negatively about Mickey Mouse, which didn't make any sense."
Not long after, some of her endorsements and television deals were dropped, though it was unclear if the events were related.
A HAPPY ENDING
In 1995, Kerrigan tied the knot with manager Solomon, 16 years her senior. “It was very exciting,” Kerrigan told reporters the morning after the Boston nuptials. “I never expected [that feeling] from something other than skating.” They started a family right away, welcoming son Matthew in 1996 as Kerrigan's transitioned her career into professional skating in touring shows.
In her post-skating life, Kerrigan was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2004, and created the Nancy Kerrigan Foundation in honor of her mother, Brenda, who's legally blind; to organization raises awareness and funds for the visually impaired.
She also showcased her vocals, releasing the pop single "Shining Through" on the figure skating compilation album Reflections Off the Ice — A Musical Tribute to Skating in 1998. "I had a lot of fun recording the song, and believe me, as much fun as it was . . . I’m not giving up the day job,” she told the Associated Press.
Behind the scenes, however, there was still a struggle for Kerrigan, who suffered "at least" six miscarriages after son Matthew's 1996 arrival. "I always thought I'd have three kids by the time I was 30," she told PEOPLE. But it was eight years and IVF treatments that brought her son Brian in 2005 and daughter Nicole in 2008.
"I felt like a failure," Kerrigan said of her losses, which doctors could never quite find a reason for. "People didn't talk about fertility issues, so I felt very alone."
But now as a mom of three, "My job is being with my kids after school and asking them how their way was," she said.
RETURNING TO THE ICE
Though she'd done some television commentary on various ice skating competitions, Kerrigan wasn't known for skating anymore — until she joined the one-season Fox reality show Skating with Celebrities in 2006. Kerrigan and partner Dave Coulier, of Full House fame, made it to fourth place.
Tragedy struck again in 2010, when the skater's father Daniel passed away. Kerrigan maintained his death was due to a heart attack, but her brother Mark — a veteran who suffers from PTSD — was convicted of assault and battery in an incident that authorities said led to Daniel's death.
“He was someone who took an interest in everyone that he came in contact with and, if he knew you much at all, had an endearing wisecrack that would be sure to make you laugh,” Kerrigan wrote in a letter obtained by Entertainment Tonight. “For me, he was my safety net. He was always there for me no matter what turn the world might take.”
"My brain hasn't worked this hard in many years," Kerrigan joked in 2017 of joining Dancing with the Stars season 24. "I struggle through certain steps, but I figure it out. I'm a competitor, I love the challenge, and it makes me feel young again. I'm having the time of my life." Though she was eliminated sixth, she called the experience an "amazing opportunity."
Now out of the spotlight again as the Olympics begin, Kerrigan maintains she hasn't seen I, Tonya — the critically acclaimed film about rival Harding and in part, the infamous attack — and is executive producing the documentary Why Don't You Lose 5 Pounds, about the prevalence of eating disorders in athletes. Look for her beginning Feb. 13 on ABC's new reality competition The Bachelor Winter Games, too.