*This article deals with the Tonya Harding character as presented to us in the movie I, Tonya.
Tonya Harding made history as the second woman to land a triple axel in an international competition. She skated her way to the Olympics with fierce excellence and unstoppable grit. The look on her face when she landed the move encapsulated everything America loved about her: the thrill of winning and doing something deemed nearly impossible.
Tonya Harding also was severely abused as a child under the strict, unrelenting gaze of her mother. That abuse carried into her young adult life when she met her husband Jeff Gilooly. Pressures of the ice-skating world combined with her rough-and-tumble childhood made her an outcast in the skating world, even before what she calls “the incident” with Nancy Kerrigan.
I am none of those things. I have never achieved something as great as the Olympics nor faced any abuse from the people in my life. Instead of being beaten down, I am constantly being lifted up by everyone I love.
Then why was I able to relate to Tonya so much?
The movie garners sympathy for Tonya. Life dealt her a bad hand. In a particularly heart-wrenching scene, Tonya confronts the judges after receiving a low score despite clearly out-skating all of her competitors. She skates up to the panel. Fury and desperation burns in her eyes as she implores, “How do I get a fair shot here?”
It wasn’t fair, Tonya laments to us. It just wasn’t fair.
And that was what struck me to the core.
I’m not Tonya. And neither is anyone else, for that matter. But we’ve all faced, in our ow ways, the unfairness of life. And sometimes, we’ve all reacted like Tonya did: by striking out, complaining, sinking into self-pity and an unhealthy lifestyle—all actions justified in the movie by the compassion we feel for her.
But the cycle can become vicious. Not everyone can pull themselves out of it like Tonya eventually does. I know I would be a helpless victim if not for the presence of God–I’d be lost in my exasperation at the world for closing door after door. But because I know His love for me, I know my self-worth lies in Him. And I know He has great plans for me. And I believe Oprah speaks the truth when she says, “There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.”
Life isn’t fair. Tonya had it a lot worse than most of us. Tonya failed. A lot. But one thing we can all learn is her spirit. Her resilience. Her courage. Even though she gets out of shape thanks to some poor life choices, she throws herself back into rigorous training as soon as she sees a sliver of a shot at her big-time dream. She’s unstoppable, even after she is banned from the sport that she desperately loves, a sport that runs through her blood. Life knocks her down hard again and again, but she defies expectations because she does the only thing that matters: she gets back on her feet. Watching Tonya conquer the ice despite how she is falling apart on the inside makes me think that I, Cassandra, can conquer too.
Like screenwriter Steven Rogers describes,
She smiles. Somehow she rises. Nothing will keep her down.
She begins to fight again.