Nancy Kerrigan’s first children’s book, “Stronger Than She Thinks,” hits shelves Nov. 21, based on scenes from the Stoneham native’s earliest days on ice.
With “skating, there’s always a chance to have a hole in the ice, or fall, or get hurt,” the two-time Olympic figure skater says. “It’s all about that journey, all those lessons I learned — working hard, getting up over and over, learning I’m stronger than I think.”
In the story, written with Ryan G. Van Cleave, and with illustrations by Arief Putra, we meet 8-year-old Nancy, who loves to figure skate. But before she can compete, Coach wants Nancy to learn an axel, “the most difficult jump of all. The jump that separated future stars from everyday skaters.” Even though Nancy’s skates hurt from being too small (“New skates weren’t an option. Figure skating was already so expensive”), she perseveres until she lands the jump in competition.
In a wide-ranging interview, Kerrigan, 54 — who won bronze at the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics and silver in 1994 at the Lillehammer Winter Olympics — was matter-of-fact, down-to-earth, and funny.
Q. This is your first children’s book. What sparked it?
A. I always loved books. When my kids were little, I bought tons of books. I said no to all kinds of toys. I’m like: “Put it on the list for Santa, but I’ll buy a book.” It was a great experience — to sit and read; it opened up discussion. Of course, it made the Christmas list very big. [Laughs]
I’ve done two books [”Artistry on Ice” (2002) for adults, and “In My Own Words” for middle readers in 1996]. One was for ages 8-12. At a book-signing, a guy came up — he must have been in his early 30s — he said, “I’ve read this twice now.” And I’m thinking “Yeah, because it’s for a 12-year-old. You probably did that very easily.” But he said, “It really helped me; there was a message in the story.” So if I can help somebody, I’m grateful.
There’s lots of sports stories out there for boys — some for girls, but not as many.
Ryan Van Cleave [who helps celebrities write children’s books], called [asking] hey, do you want to do this? So it was the right timing. I’m not a writer, but I definitely have stories. And, clearly, I like to talk because I haven’t shut up since you’ve asked me that question.
Q. [Laughs] No, this is great. It sounds like you were a pretty determined kid.
A. Yeah [Laughs] I had a lot of energy, for sure. I wish I had some of it still. I loved being on the rink; I loved going fast. It’s such a freedom.
Q. The press release says you’re not “from a typical skating background.”
A. Yeah, I mean, there’s always a whole variety of people in any sport, but as you continue, it becomes expensive. It’s a real challenge and strain on a family. A lot of people can’t continue. My family, I was lucky, took loans and multiple jobs to support me, but not everyone has that.
Q. As you tell readers in the book, your mom is blind.
A. Life was challenging, but she [made] sure I got enough sleep, had rides. She was COO of the house. My dad [worked three] jobs to pay for it all.
Q. When you trained, like we see in this book, was that in Stoneham?
A. At this age, probably more Stoneham, then maybe Burlington. I did about [nine years of] Burlington in the mornings before school.
Q. Your first competition was in Boston.
A. I came in second place. I was over at the playground across the street and they told me I had to come get the medal, but I wasn’t interested because I was having fun at the playground. Going back to put my skates on just to stand there seemed silly. I liked the act of skating itself. All the other stuff was eh — less important.
Q. The rink in the book where you compete, was that Boston?
A. I think it was like a little creative license, because it shows a big audience. And it wasn’t such a big audience [Laughs]. It was mostly parents.
Q. Do your kids have any interest in skating?
A. Matthew’s the only one who really took lessons, but he got the lead in “The Pirates of Penzance” and that was it — he was a theater guy. He’s in New York. He’s a costume designer. He’s done “Hadestown,” “Cocomelon.” Brian is at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. He was recruited for gymnastics. My daughter is 15. She’s a ballerina at a conservatory ballet school.
Q. You said the publisher Bushel & Peck’s “Book-for-Book Promise” matching program intrigued you. [According to their website: “for every book we sell, we donate one to a child in need.”]
A. That was one of the reasons I went with Bushel & Peck. That’s really special, to reach people beyond [those who] can afford to buy a book. Reading can help lots of people, not just those who can afford it.
Q. You’ve talked about battling an eating disorder. Can you tell me about the documentary in the works?
A. I’m executive producer. It’s called “Why Don’t You Lose 5 Pounds?” I was never officially diagnosed, but like any serious athlete in any sport, we’re definitely aware of what we’re eating, which probably has a diagnosis now. Docs are a little challenging to fund. But it’s more prevalent than concussions and that’s had major movies, so hopefully it’ll get done.
[Stronger than you think has] been a motto to live by. Life throws us challenges. We all have reservoirs of strength to tap into. In the movie “Dungeons & Dragons,” they said you’re at your strongest when you think you’re at your weakest, and I think that’s true.
As of this writing, there were still tickets left to Kerrigan’s free Nov. 18 talk at Sandwich’s Riverview School via Titcomb’s Books; register via eventbrite.com. Her Nov. 19 talk at Plainville’s An Unlikely Story is sold out. (There’s a wait-list on eventbrite.com.)
Interview was edited and condensed.