In 1994, then Boston Globe writer Nathan Cobb provided a detailed picture of skater Nancy Kerrigan and her family. Here is that account.
March 10, 1994
IN SEARCH OF THE REAL NANCY KERRIGAN;
The young Olympic heroine grew up in the rink and put the rest of her life on ice
BYLINE: By Nathan Cobb, Globe Staff
Daniel Kerrigan was trying to keep up, he really was. But his daughter was being swept ahead of him through Logan International Airport last weekend, riding a wave of 23 media types, seven minicams, five state troopers and a gaggle of family and friends. Nancy Kerrigan was coming home to Stoneham from the Winter Olympics, via Disney World, and the tide was rolling. Her 7-year-old cousin, Allison Schultz, clung to her left arm like it was a life raft.
"Hey, Dan!" someone called out. "Hey, Dan! I guess Nancy'll never walk through an airport alone again, eh?"
Dan Kerrigan half turned and half tried to answer, but there was no time. The wave was whooshing out the door with his daughter on its crest, and he had all he could to stay afloat.
Is 24-year-old Nancy Ann Kerrigan really ready for a life like this? Never mind, for a moment, whether she's Snow White or Grumpy, a question of such import that it still sets off firestorms on talk shows and inside taverns. Consider instead that family, friends and acquaintances insist that she has never been socially at ease with people she doesn't know, never been good at small talk and certainly never enjoyed appearing in public - unless she was wearing skates and knocking off a double axel or two.
By her personality, inclination and training, such folks say, Nancy Kerrigan simply has not been prepared for the hot glare of fame that continues to follow her. Even her agent, Jerry Solomon of Virginia-based ProServ, who wore a media pass at last month's Winter Olympics in Norway so that he could hover nearby during his star client's public appearances, concedes that she often gives the accurate impression that she'd rather be someplace else. "Some people are naturals in public," Solomon muses. "Some people are not."
Post Wounded Knee, the spotlight will dim, but it certainly won't go out.
There are the six current sponsorship deals as cut by Solomon - said to be worth about $ 4 million - three of which include public appearance clauses. There's the 62-city ice tour set to begin April 11, with notebooks and microphones lurking at every venue. There are TV specials for both CBS and ABC in the works, as well as the personal ice tour being cranked up for the fall. Yipes, there's even that hostessing spot this weekend on NBC's "Saturday Night Live." That's "live" as in no second chance.
Evy Scotvold, her skating coach for the past eight years, predicts that Kerrigan will eventually become more comfortable and polished as a public figure. Cindy Adams, a sports psychologist who began counseling the skater last year, contends that she already has. And Jeff Gutridge, editor of the weekly Stoneham Independent, recalls a reception for Kerrigan that was held a few hours after her second and final performance at the Lillehammer Olympics where he was surprised to find the skater, having knocked back a couple of glasses of champagne, in a downright conversational mood - this after five years of providing primarily one-word answers to his questions.
Yet there was Kerrigan the very next day at a United States Olympic Committee news conference, nervously doing what she has often done in such situations: speaking disjointedly, shrugging and rolling her eyes at questions.
"I would only hope her agent would say to himself, 'Let's give this girl some help, let's give her some clues,' " says Kathy Duff of Stoneham, who knew Kerrigan as a teen-ager and remains an admirer today. The need for such assistance has probably never been more in evidence than it was last January in Phoenix when Kerrigan was trotted out at a news conference to announce that she would be a spokeswoman for Seiko. "I'm not quite sure what I'm supposed to be talking about yet," she bashfully declared.
For his part, Solomon - who says that the skater has remained largely removed from his deal-making - contends that he had been planning to aid and abet Kerrigan's off-ice public persona even before Shane Stant took an iron bar to her right knee in Detroit's Cobo Arena in January. He talks of soon hiring a coach for Kerrigan "to help her with media training and presentations and things of that nature. That's something she's definitely going to have to work on for the next couple of years." He points out that most of her speaking and schmoozing engagements will be with school groups rather than corporate pooh-bahs. After all, everyone agrees she genuinely loves to be around kids.
Solomon is already dispatching the troops. You may have noticed an almost shadowy figure walking in front of the Ford Mustang convertible that ferried Kerrigan along Stoneham's Main Street during last Sunday's televised welcome-home parade. He seemed to be the only person among 50,000 or so who wasn't smiling or wearing a brightly colored ski parka. Instead, he wore a dour look, as well as a charcoal topcoat, dark suit, button-down shirt, conservative tie, Burberry's scarf and tassel loafers. He was Dewey Blanton, ProServ's vice president for public relations and a high-ranking officer in what he calls Kerrigan's Commandos. Asked if he was enjoying the parade, Blanton replied cheerlessly from behind aviator sunglasses. "I'll tell you in about two hours," he said, "when the speeches are over."
See, there's that other problem. Kerrigan can indeed be grumpy, lower-case g. The now-famous impatience she displayed both while waiting to receive her Olympic silver medal and upon being asked by her mother to wear it during a Disney World parade two days later is apparently not out of character. There was also an unreported incident in Lillehammer when, after skating poorly in an exhibition shortly before she was to leave Norway, she blasted a United State Figure Skating Association official over the prospect of meeting the press.
"Nancy can be bitchy," says Theresa Martin, now a vice president of the State Street Bank, who was Kerrigan's skating coach for a decade beginning when the future Olympian was 7 years old. "She's not perfect. She can snap a little bit when she doesn't feel good. I remember she'd flip out about her dress being uncomfortable or her skates not feeling right.
"Nancy simply isn't a wind-up skating princess robot. That was definitely Nancy at the end of the Olympic ceremony. It was her disappointment and letdown showing. These kids are unbelievably competitive between each other. It's been bred into them by the sport for years and years."
Certainly the sport has been bred into Nancy Kerrigan.
Thomas Ryan knows. Ryan remembers the summer of 1984 when he had been on the job as principal of Stoneham High School for only a few days and the first student he encountered was 14-year-old Nancy Kerrigan. She and her mother, Brenda, had come in to inform the new principal that this particular sophomore would require a very special schedule. She needed to have all her classes crammed into the morning hours so that she could leave by midday. To skate, of course.
"It was clear that she was totally committed to skating, that she wanted to take the minimum course load," Ryan recalls. "I suggested she might want to think about taking an extra course or two, in case skating didn't work out. But she'd have none of it. I was amazed. Most people aren't that sure at age 14. But she was."
Do not look for Nancy Kerrigan on the pages of Wildlife '87, her class yearbook, other than as a short-haired senior tucked in among hundreds of others. She did not hang in the Caf, cavort at Senior Apple Picking or dance the night away at the Adventure Land Carnival Ball. She was the kind of shy, polite student teachers call "a nice kid," but she was practically invisible. School was something that took place between her morning skate and her afternoon skate. "I don't think the same things concerned her that concerned me," says Meghan E. Murphy, the class of '87's social chairman. When it came time to concoct a class prophecy, it was predicted by her classmates that Kerrigan would be - yes - an Olympic skater. "But it's not because we thought it would happen," Murphy explains. "It's because that's all we knew about her: She was a skater."
And if some classmates thought Kerrigan had a good deal going, so what? "I lost a lot of friends when I started skating because I just wasn't around," she once told the Globe. "And some of them thought I was getting special treatment because I would arrive at school late and leave early. But I really didn't care what they thought. I just wanted to skate."
Which was the way it had been since the earliest days at Stoneham Arena, the brown stone rink that squats a little more than half a mile from her family's pea-green, much-renovated Victorian home. A series of other practice rinks would follow, but it was here, hard by Interstate 93, that Kerrigan regularly and unfailingly reported as a youngster. By the time she was a 10-year-old, Martin recalls, she was skating four hours a day. Tricia Halpin, a friend and classmate from the Emerson Elementary School when her last name was Leydon, remembers that sleepovers at the Kerrigan home during the fourth and fifth grades often involved a young hostess who disappeared before sunrise. "Nancy would get up at 5:30 in the morning, leave and come back a couple of hours later," she says.
Most such nonskating friends soon slipped from Nancy Kerrigan's constellation. By now, all America knows about Dan Kerrigan, the low-key, gravel-voiced welder who kept his daughter in outfits and ice time by working extra jobs. (The USFSA also kicked in funding, and money was also eventually provided by Lisa Webster, a wealthy, behind-the-scenes sponsor from New Jersey.) We know about Brenda Kerrigan, the legally blind, talkative mother who seems to be her daughter's closest friend. And we even know a bit about Nancy's quiet, good-looking brothers - 29-year-old Mark, a plumber, and 27-year-old Michael, who works at Stoneham Arena - who had to take a back seat as their sister ran her dead-on course. "Her brothers didn't have the kind of money spent on them that Nancy did," says Will Schultz, Nancy's uncle. "But they weren't putting in the same effort that she was."
Her close-knit family and its friends made up most of Nancy's world beyond the cocoon of skating. The spacious home on Cedar Avenue was often filled with people, and it was here that Nancy was actually comfortable and outgoing. There were family ski trips and snowmobile outings, and she even scooped ice cream at the Main Street Friendly's for a while as a teen-ager. But as she slowly and singlemindedly worked her way up through the levels of competitive skating - this is no Oksana Baiul, the Olympic gold medal winner who won no major senior titles before winning the world crown last year - family vacations often consisted of trips to, say, the Easterns at Lake Placid or the Nationals in Tacoma, where the Kerrigans were always known for providing the largest entourage. As she became well known and reporters asked her about her life off the ice, Nancy would often duck the question with rolling eyes and wonder aloud why anyone could possibly think that was important.
Meanwhile, if anyone doubted the mission, it was Brenda Kerrigan. Never Nancy. "I'd wake her up at 4:30 to skate and at first she'd say, 'I don't want to go,' " says her mother. "So I'd say, 'OK, don't go.' And she'd say, 'But I have to go.' "
The fit was good: Nancy was a shy person attracted by a sport in which you spend long hours in near-empty buildings with only your coach or yourself. Her mother thinks that if Nancy hadn't become a skatough practices.
"She was just a lot more confident on the ice than in dealing with people," says Stephanie Jackson, a former competitive skater who often shared ice time with Kerrigan as a teen-ager and became a good friend. "She was more or less the best skater around. It came easy to her. People were constantly telling her she was good."
And when she was bad, when things weren't going well on skates, you knew it. Queenie (Ducky) Antonucci, a fixture around the Stoneham rink who was Kerrigan's first skating teacher when Nancy was only 6, says the future star was always poking around the place as a teen-ager, looking for an unbooked hour of ice time. "We'd walk in, and if she had a bad day she'd be sitting there crying," says Antonucci. (Such moments started early. Decked out in a blue Danskin dress for her first class with Martin, the 7-year-old burst into tears.)
Jackson and Kerrigan often hung around the rink together or drifted off to each other's home after practice. Sometimes Dan Kerrigan would drive them to the local CVS to browse or to Blockbuster Video to rent a movie. Sometimes they'd stop by the home of another skater. "I never saw her around people other than skaters," says Jackson, who adds that she eventually concluded that she herself didn't have the desire to continue skating competitively and is now a software engineer. "There wasn't much time for a social life. Skating can be quite isolating." Not surprisingly, when Kerrigan was engaged to be married, from September 1992 to June of last year, it was to a friend of her brother Michael's who was also a rink rat: Bill Chase of Woburn, an accountant who worked as a part-time driver of the Zamboni ice-making machine at Stoneham Arena.
Kerrigan is remembered as academically average in high school, but she made B's despite the fact that classes weren't a priority. Bill Mucica, who was her English teacher in both the ninth and 11th grades, wrote her college recommendation. But the withdrawn high school student Mucica remembers displayed none of the competitiveness, self-assurance and even cockiness she showed on the ice. "She just wasn't confident in her abilities," he says. "You had to tell her her work was good, tell her she was on the right track. She always seemed to need reassurance." Her mother says that high school was a difficult time, that her daughter sometimes cried because she had no friends at the the modern, two-story building up on Franklin Street.
As a freshman at Emmanuel, the Boston Catholic women's college at which she earned 64 credits and an associate's degree in business between 1988 and 1993, Kerrigan was steered by an administrator into a once-a-week course called "The Dynamics of Speech Communication." Louise Cash, the professor and department head who taught the course and has been at the college for 30 years, says she found Kerrigan to be one of the shyest people she had ever dealt with. "It's almost like she didn't want people to know her except on the ice," says Cash. "I used to say to her, 'Nancy, someday you're going to be spending more time talking to people than skating.' But that seemed an awfully long way away to her. She never thought that would be part of what she had to do."
Cash also recalls that Kerrigan invariably began her speeches in class with a sigh and a line that seemed to sum up her life: "I wish I could be skating instead of doing this."
Paul Wylie, the buoyant Harvard-educated skater who was a silver medalist in the 1992 Winter Olympics, is a close friend and training partner of Kerrigan's. He even shared a house with her on Cape Cod for two summers while the pair trained at Tony Kent Arena in South Dennis. He describes her as someone who likes to go to the beach, play golf ("She won't play with me because I'm so bad"), eat Mexican food and occasionally hang out at the Irish Pub in West Harwich. He also says he's reluctant to "dissect" her.
But then he does. A little bit. "I think she's playing a role on the ice," Wylie says. "She's an actress. She has a script, and she plays that role, and she knows she's good at it. She's confident in that role." Kerrigan herself tearfully used the identical image on "Dateline NBC" two nights ago when she described her unhappiness with life in a fishbowl. "I'm not someone with a script," she said.
Off the ice, the acting stops. Susan Dangel, a WGBH-TV staffer who produces "An Evening of Championship Skating," the annual Cambridge gathering of world-class skaters who perform for the Jimmy Fund, says that Kerrigan is the only skater who does not show up for rehearsal for the show. Nor does she party back at Harvard's Eliot House with the other skaters, who see the event as a kind of reunion.
"She comes to skate, and she leaves," says Dangel. "And she seems upset and mad a lot. Or maybe not so much mad as not happy." And so, Kerrigan does not give us what "we want in our princesses," Dangel believes. "She seems to be lacking in joie de vivre. She doesn't seem to be enjoying life. She doesn't seem to want to have fun. She doesn't seem confident. She doesn't seem particularly proud of herself."
At Stoneham High School one morning last week, principal Tom Ryan slipped a videocassette into a television set located in a corner of his large office. For 15 minutes or so, he and a visitor watched an interview he conducted with Nancy Kerrigan 2 1/2 years ago. It took place in the school's small TV studio, and was seen only by the those among the school's 800 students who were awake at 7:30 on a rainy morning.
Yet even in this interview - sitting with someone she knew, at her alma mater, in her hometown - Kerrigan was obviously ill at ease as a public figure. She talked in a flat, emotionless voice about her early morning practices and about skating being a kind of job. She had difficulty making eye contact, rubbed her hands together nervously and dropped misplaced giggles into her conversation. I wish I could be skating instead of doing this.
"She's a skater," said Ryan as the tape finished and the screen went blank. "She's been skating for 18 years. That doesn't make her a world commentator."
But it has made her a world figure, ready or not.
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