Tonya Harding couldn’t have invented a better story to help change her image.
Now the deposed figure skating champion is a lifesaver.
Harding says she believes God was behind her last-second decision Sunday to stop at a suburban bar for a few minutes to play video poker.
Shortly after she arrived, an 81-year-old woman collapsed and stopped breathing. Harding called 911 with her cellular phone and revived Alice Olson by giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
“It was very, very scary,” Harding said. “I kept my calm and cool and knew what I was doing. I had to do this. I thank God that I was there. Nobody else in the bar knew what to do. … This lady was literally dead for probably two minutes.”
Kim Ip, owner of the Lost and Found Saloon where the incident occurred, confirmed Harding’s version of events.
“The lady came to in a couple of minutes,” Ip said. “I’m grateful that Tonya was here.”
Harding comforted the woman until paramedics arrived, Ip said.
Olson, who suffers from heart problems and diabetes, was hospitalized overnight.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her,” Olson told KOIN-TV. “She saved my life.”
In an interview with The Associated Press, Harding said she and her godmother were on their way to Harding’s nearby home when they decided to stop at the bar.
“I really believe that God had me there for a reason because we weren’t going to stop because I’m trying to sell my house and somebody was going to come look at it and I had to get home to clean it,” Harding said. “We decided to stop for about 15 minutes.”
Harding said she never intended to take her story to the media, but members of Olson’s family called KOIN to relate the story. Harding said she didn’t know of the impending publicity until her agent, David Hans Schmidt, called her from his Phoenix, Ariz., office after getting a call from KOIN.
Harding worked with the elderly in the Meals on Wheels program as part of her probation after pleading guilty to conspiracy to hinder prosecution in the January 1994 assault on rival skater Nancy Kerrigan. Harding was eventually banned from figure skating.
Harding said she remembered CPR from a class she took in school.
“I passed the course at the top of my class,” Harding said.
When the woman came to, she held Harding’s hand.
“Once we got her back and I had her head in one hand and her hand in the other and was talking to her and stuff and trying to make her smile,” Harding said, “I said, ‘So, have you ever been kissed by a woman before?’ She said she hadn’t and I said, ‘Well, I guess there’s a first time for everything.”’