By CRYSTAL K. WIEBE
Tonya Harding warms up to customers at Grinders.
Bad girl figure skater-turned-boxer Tonya Harding came to town last Friday to sign autographs at a mixed martial arts fighting event. Before she headed to the National Guard Armory in Kansas City, Kansas, she agreed to have a beer with me at Grinders. She showed up wearing a shirt emblazoned with the word “Redneck.” Here are some highlights from our conversation.
I heard you partied down in Kansas City last night.
We just went to a friend’s restaurant and bar and had dinner and then had a few drinks and I signed a few autographs for some people.
Did people recognize you?
Yeah, yeah. And the owner announced that I was there and that I had pictures and if they wanted one they could come get it.
Do you remember what the restaurant was called?
I don’t remember. Sorry. I was just the passenger in the car and so I just went where they took me. But I remember it was a Mexican restaurant and they had really, really good food. [Her handler revealed later that it was Dicarlo’s Mustard Seed.]
What’s your poison of choice?
I don’t like to talk about that.
But [referring to what she ordered], you like Coors, don’t you?
I like to drink beer. I mean if I say one kind, another kind, whatever. You don’t say names of what you like. You just say I like beer.
That leaves you open to an endorsement deal, right?
Well, you never know.
How do most people react when they recognize you? Are they cool?
People are really cool. They want to come up and shake my hand or at least say hi. A lot of people want to get my autograph. I mean, it’s really cool. Without the support of the people, where would I be? You never know.
[At this point, the waitress brings the beer. Tonya says she doesn’t need a glass.]
What have you been doing today?
Just watching TV, watching the weather reports. Because I leave first thing in the morning. But I love snow. I absolutely love snow, so I’m looking forward to it coming in tonight.
Do you get hit on a lot?
Yeah. Do you get guys coming on to you?
Oh, uh uh. I mean, not that I know of anyway. I mean, I don’t know, I don’t pay attention to that. Most people just want my autograph or come and say hey while I’m watching the news or something.
In your career, you’ve continued to get out and be in the spotlight. I’m not sure if everyone would have necessarily kept doing that.
Well, you know, I don’t necessarily go out to get in the spotlight or anything like that. People tend to put me in the spotlight a lot of times. I really like my privacy and my private life, but I guess I do put myself out there for like doing these events and everything… Like when I go to the boxing matches, I can learn from what I watch. And doing the exhibition boxing; that helps pay the bills. Not a lot, but it helps pay a little bit of them.
[As Tonya talks about why she got into boxing, the guy in the photo at right comes up to the table and asks her to sign a T-shirt. “Sure,” she says. “See what I mean?”]
What are you working toward now?
Just trying to succeed in anything that I do and be successful. For all of the naysayers or negative people out there, the best revenge is success. So, I look toward success every day. Even if I haven’t accomplished total success, I feel successful myself. I feel good about me. And I do look forward to every single day.
A lot of the people at the office wanted me to bring you back for our Friday happy hour.
[Laughs.] Well, if I didn’t have anything else to do, I would.
Is this the kind of place that you’d hang out in back home?
Um, not in this kind of neighborhood. I mean I don’t really go out and hang out too much or anything. I might go out to the bowling alley and see my girlfriends that work there and maybe bowl or something. Go to the local pub down the road or something maybe once every few months or something to say hello or maybe listen to music. Other than that, I’m a home girl. I like sitting out in the front yard by the fire pit having a fire. If it’s raining, you put a tarp up. If it’s not, you’re out there sitting by the fire and listening to the radio and drinking beer, you know, and having friends over. That’s the type of person I am.
What’s the proper way to take a punch?
I really don’t know how to say anything like that. I’m a professional boxer, I’m not a fighter. My hands are lethal weapons. If somebody touches me, I can’t touch them back. There’s nothing I can do about that.
I was tooling around on your Web site…
The one with the fantasy stuff?
The only thing, I don’t actually have a Web site … TonyaHarding.com is not mine. I’ve tried to have it shut down for many, many years. So, please, please, people go to that, what is it – what is it that one? It’s not Yahoo. [Her handler says “YouTube.”] YouToo. Go to YouToo and just type in Tonya Harding. It shows me actually skating.