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Nancy Kerrigan on the ‘Ice Dreams’ tour and the conversation around athletes’ mental health

"If you're at the top, there's pressure."

Nancy Kerrigan
Nancy Kerrigan in 2018. Erin Clark/Boston Globe

For Nancy Kerrigan, the thrill of skating has never changed.

“When I get on the ice, that’s still my favorite thing to do to,” she explained in a recent interview. “Just go fast and feel the wind.”

Kerrigan, 52, has been getting to feel that sensation more in the last few months. For the first time since 2015, she’s back on tour as part of Ice Dreams 2022.

The tour, which also includes fellow figure skaters Gracie Gold, Jeremy Abbott, and Polina Edmunds (among others), arrives at the New England Sports Center in Marlborough on May 15.

While Kerrigan has done “a few shows” since her last tour seven years ago, she’s taking her return in stride.

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“It’s been a while,” Kerrigan joked, acknowledging that she’s had to refine her routine over the years.

“I do have to face reality that I can’t skate like I did 30 years ago,” she said.

But Kerrigan, who says she’s always tried to be “super logical,” also noted that being honest with herself about her skating routine has helped keep it fun.

“I can remember right before I gave up triple jumps because I would stand there nervous and ready to just start crying,” she recalled. “I knew it was time to [give those up] because it was just almost too hard. I still wanted to perform and it’s hard to perform when you’re that nervous. So I told myself, ‘Okay, tone it down a little and have a great performance.’ And it just makes it a lot better for everybody.”

Like few other figure skaters in history, Kerrigan is acutely aware of the pressures that can accompany a performance, and the effect it can have on an athlete’s mental health.

In 1994, when she was assaulted by Shane Stant after finishing a practice skate at the Cobo Arena in Detroit in the buildup to the Lillehammer Olympics, Kerrigan found herself in the spotlight of an international scandal.

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The infamous incident, which fellow U.S. figure skater Tonya Harding was eventually implicated in, placed an unprecedented microscope on Kerrigan’s every move during that time.

Even in perfect circumstances, navigating the atmosphere of an Olympics as an athlete who is expected to medal is difficult. In Kerrigan’s case, she not only had to recover from the unexpected injury sustained from Slant’s attack, but also had to make her way through the unending media attention.

In retrospect, Kerrigan credited the people around her.

“It was challenging and hard,” she admitted, “but I was so lucky to have a very down to earth family and support.”

“I keep things in good perspective,” Kerrigan added. “I knew after being attacked that I was really hurt. Would I be able to get better? I didn’t know. I just tried really hard to recover for the Olympics. My thought was, ‘If I can [recover], great, and I won’t know if I don’t try, so let me at least try first and see where we can go from there.'”

Ultimately, Kerrigan was able to handle the attention, the pressure, and recovering from injury to finish second and win a silver medal at the ’94 Winter Olympics (adding to the bronze medal she’d already won at the Albertville Games in 1992).

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Asked about the ongoing discussion of mental health among athletes — especially Olympic athletes over the past year — Kerrigan had a straightforward assessment.

“If you’re at the top, there’s pressure,” she said.

“But it’s all perspective,” Kerrigan continued. “Billie Jean King said pressure is a privilege, and I believe that’s true. You can turn that around, too, and use it to your advantage and say, ‘Okay, all these people believe in me. I need to believe in myself.'”

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