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Bad Girl On A Dirt Track 

Tonya Harding looks ahead

Believe it or not, January will mark the 10th anniversary of "The Whack Heard 'Round The World," the priceless pop culture moment when Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed on the knee by meathead- for-hire Shane Stant, who had been hired by Tonya Harding's paramour Jeff Gillooly. Following the attack, Harding went on to win the 1994 US Championships, but soon found herself involved in a criminal investigation and targeted by a voracious media. Soon, she was gracing news magazine's covers and dominating water-cooler conversations worldwide. After she admitted that she was involved in the whack-Kerrigan scheme, she was stripped of her national championship and banned from amateur skating.

Harding continued to make headlines throughout the 90s, including showing up in a video of her own honeymoon night, which Gillooly had sold to Penthouse. In 2002 she whupped-up on Clinton accuser Paula Jones on Fox's Celebrity Boxing, which motivated her to pursue a career as a professional boxer. This weekend, Harding will be in Charlotte as part of an event dubbed Motor Madness, which will feature motorcross, monster trucks, a demolition derby and "death-defying" stunts. Harding will take part in a Celebrity Challenge dirt track race along with folks like radio personality Jeff Roper.

After a decade of being in the media crosshairs, Harding, 32, is surprisingly open, and has become a rather practiced interview subject.

Harding was born in Portland, OR, to a blue-collar family, and experienced some rough times as a kid. "I moved 13 times before I was in 5th grade," she says. "I didn't have many friends growing up. It was a difficult time. I put everything into skating. It was my life. My parents got divorced, and I went from home to home between the two of them, and sometimes that can hurt a child. I got in with the wrong crowd, and made poor choices."

One of those poor choices, she admits, was being an accomplice in the Kerrigan attack. Harding describes the following couple of years as "surreal," as the media closed in. "When you get thrown into the media like that, it's very overwhelming. I understand they have to do their job, but they sometime form opinions and accusations before all the facts are there. I've learned a lot since then. I'm not as naive as I used to be. I don't let people take advantage of me like I used to. When somebody tells you that they're there for your best interests, you want to believe them. Well, now, you have to prove that you're here for my best interest, and what I say goes. I may ask other people for advice, but I'm the one who makes the final decisions regarding my life and career. I'm not going to do anything -- for television, or whatever -- if it's not a family-oriented thing."

With images of Harding pummeling Paula Jones in my head, I let the comment go and moved on.

Does she ever have any contact with ex-husband Gillooly? "Ugh. No."

How about Kerrigan? "No, I don't think that would be possible, which is too bad. I wish her well and hope she's been able to put all of this behind her the same as I have and has gone on to have a successful life."

Harding is now focused on her boxing career. "I have a good punch and athletic ability, and I just love it. I train every single day, and I'm looking forward to my next few fights. Whether you win or lose it doesn't matter, as long as you go in there and do the best you can." (Her record is 3-2.)

On the general public's reaction to her, Harding says, "I know people are still going to say things, but that's their choice. That's the past and I'm working on my future. Right now I just look forward to getting up, going to the gym, and making something of myself once again. If I go into a boxing match and people boo me when I walk into the ring, by the time I get done they're cheering for me and want my autograph. I could care less what they think about me, because when they come to the boxing matches they're paying my salary.

"I'm a good person," she continued. "You make mistakes all your life, but as long as you don't go back and make the same mistakes, then you're growing and you're learning. That's what life is all about."

Motor Madness is at the Charlotte Coliseum, Friday, November 7, and Saturday, November 8, at 7:30pm. Tickets are $17 for adults ($20 at the door), and $5 for kids under 12. Purchase tickets at the Charlotte Coliseum or Cricket Arena Box Office, Ticketmaster outlets by calling 704-522-6500, or on-line at www.ticket master.com.

Contact Sam Boykin at sam.boykin@cln.com or 704-944-3623.

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