Editor's Note: I Almost Followed in the Skate Tracks of Tonya Harding
Clackamas Town Center was hiring a skating instructor. I was freshly arrived from Kentucky. With Portland in a state of impending recession, I needed a job, fast. I’d never taught skating, but with my Canadian mom, college hockey experience, and youth figure skating (I’d stopped when the jumping—and the outfits—started), I was sure I was a lock.
I didn’t really care that I’d blown my other chances at employment. (Don’t partake in the samples at the end of a brewery tour if you have a job interview to sell Volkswagens 30 minutes later. If you’re given a personality test when you apply to wait tables, don’t waste time trying to figure out if the test measures memory or self-esteem. If you apply for a job delivering flowers, don’t say you just moved here and don’t know the streets of Southwest Portland at all.) The mall would call. I just knew it.
Then I remembered. This wasn’t some rinky-dink patch of indoor ice. This was where Tonya Harding—two-time-national-champion Tonya Harding, second-woman-to-land-a-triple-Axel Tonya Harding—trained for the Olympics, and where, a decade earlier, anyone out for a day’s shopping could see the elite skater in action. And where national news teams swarmed after men connected to Harding were arrested for organizing an attack on a rival skater in January 1994. Where Harding was booed and heckled and made a spectacle of as suspicions grew over her involvement in the plot.
The mall never called. I eventually found my way into journalism (yay?). Tonya Harding is now the subject of a major new motion picture that shows “the incident” and its lead-up from her point of view. I, Tonya (starring Margot Robbie, shown above as the teenage skater, with Sebastian Stan as her future husband) also gave me a reason to meet up with Harding, interviewing her for our profile. I discovered that Tonya eventually found her way to a better place, surrounded by people who aren’t primed to think the worst—or, either way, who figure 24 years is long enough for forgiveness. The champ offered some tough words for Portland, the city that embraced her, then made her a pariah.
Things change, though. No one in 1994 Portland could have envisioned the transformations that would remake the city. And no one would have predicted Tonya Harding would be having anything like a redemptive meta-media “moment” in early 2018. Maybe it’s a chance to recognize that we all skate some unexpected paths in life.