For Nancy Kerrigan,
figure skater and new mom,
the pool is a great place
to get into shape for the
twists and turns of life
by E.M. Swift
Nancy Kerrigan is in the pool, floating on her back with a buoyant plastic foam barbell beneath her knees. It looks like a kid's toy. "Give me 10 crunches, please," her 61-year-old trainer, Igor Burdenko, asks pleasantly.
It is a misleading tone, much like that of a dungeon master who cheerfully inquires how a prisoner is feeling before another session on the rack. Burdenko, who emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1981, is a sports-medicine consultant and president and founder of the Burdenko Water and Sports Therapy Institute, which operates out of the Lexington Club in Lexington, Mass. He specializes in combining water and land therapies, and his charge now is to help get Kerrigan-who on Dec. 17 gave birth to her first baby, Matthew Eric Solomon, seven pounds, 10 ounces-back into skating shape.
"One ... two ... three, " Burdenko counts in his rich Russian accent as Kerrigan begins doing sit-ups-knees to chin-in six feet of water, a process every bit as difficult as it sounds. At "six" Kerrigan inhales a mouthful of pool water and coughs. "Please don't drink the water, Nancy," Burdenko chortles. At "eight" her face is contorted with pain. Her hair is plastered to her forehead from the repeated dunkings, and she looks a little like a drowning cat. Seven weeks after Kerrigan had her baby, all of her muscle groups still feel weak, but her lower abdominals are particularly sore. Particularly now. Skaters cannot jump or spin or exhibit proper posture without strong stomach and back muscles.
"Smile when it hurts, Nancy," Burdenko suggests. "It makes it nicer. Two more." She does two more tortured crunches, a grin frozen on her face, but her form has gone all to hell. "Two good ones," Burdenko insists, making her repeat them. "Two ... one ... thank you. Let's go to the rings."
Burdenko and Kerrigan have gone through this drill before. It was he who, less than two months before the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, supervised (with a physiotherapist) the main part of Kerrigan's rehabilitation after she was smacked in the knee by a tire-iron-wielding member of Tonya Harding's mob. This time his task is slightly less daunting, if only because the eyes of America are elsewhere. Kerrigan gained 23 pounds during her pregnancy-a number that made her obstetrician happy-but lost only a handful of those extra pounds in the first six weeks after Matthew's birth. That is typical of new mothers, since they are discouraged from exercising strenuously, but in mid-April, Kerrigan plans to join the Campbell's Soups Tour of World Figure Skating Champions for 25 shows out of a 60-show, 58-city tour. She wants to reach her prepregnancy weight and fitness level by then, and it's Burdenko's job to make sure she does.
"Having a baby is like using a Mercedes, instead of a pickup truck, to carry lumber and cement around a construction project," he says. "The Mercedes does the job, but afterward it does not run quite the same. It needs work. Everything an athlete needs to perform-balance, coordination, flexibility, endurance, speed and strength-changes when she's pregnant."
The stomach muscles stretch while the mother-to-be is carrying the baby. The pelvis and hips become pliant so that the baby can fit through the birth canal. The mother's posture goes awry as her center of gravity shifts.
"I didn't like my body changing," Kerrigan says. She skated 38 performances in the first 4 1/2 months of her pregnancy, wore a two-piece swimsuit at five months and didn't buy her first maternity clothes until she was six months along. "Even when I was eight months pregnant, I was trying to hold my stomach in," she says.
A month after the birth Kerrigan asked her obstetrician if she could start exercising. She was told to wait for two weeks. "You feel like you're normal and fine," Kerrigan says, "but you can hemorrhage internally if you resume training too soon. I have to be healthy to take care of Matthew."
There are advantages to beginning a postpregnancy workout in the water, according to Burdenko. First, because of water resistance, an hour of exercise in the pool is the equivalent of 2 1/2 hours of the same exercise on land. Second and most important: The water removes the fear factor. It essentially eliminates gravity. "I start in the deep part of the pool, where the woman feels safe because she doesn't have to worry about losing her balance," Burdenko says. "So she tries things she wouldn't try on land. Then we work to the shallow end of the pool and, eventually, to land."
As if to illustrate the point, Kerrigan grasps a pair of rings suspended on long ropes from the ceiling of the Lexington Club and hoists her upper body out of the water, rotating three times as she does so to mimic the revolutions of a triple jump. Later she'll try her double Axel while jumping into the pool from the side. It'll be another three weeks before she actually tries these jumps on the ice.
"At first, it's more important that I get strong and flexible than that I skate," Kerrigan says of her regimen. "I have to build up my endurance. My strength was always the key to my skating and my jumps." After her first postpartum visit to Burdenko-a marathon in early February that was divided between time in the water and time in the gym doing ballet exercises against the resistance of rubber tubing-her hamstrings and quadriceps were cripplingly sore. Her mother, Brenda, commented that Nancy had moved better the day after Matthew was born.
In addition to her once-a-week sessions with Burdenko, Kerrigan spent three days a week for most of February at a local fitness club with a personal trainer, working with weights and a stationary bike, and three days a week skating alone for an hour. By late February she was ready to start serious on-ice training with her coaches, Mary and Evy Scotvold, trying to remaster her triple jumps and learning a new 3 1/2-minute exhibition program for the tour.
Kerrigan is unsure how much competitive skating she'll do next fall. "I'm surprised how much I miss training," she says. "It feels good to exhaust yourself, and I love making up new routines, getting new costumes, the whole process. But if I'm going to compete, I want to compete well. I never cared that much about winning, but you want to look like you belong with the others. And that takes a lot of time and practice."
Three years ago, during that insane winter of 1994, Kerrigan's name became forever linked with Harding's and, later, Oksana Baiul's. Of the three, only Kerrigan has been able to get on with life. Eighteen months ago she married her agent, Jerry Solomon. He had shepherded her through the whole Harding mess and then through the goldfish bowl of Lillehammer, where Kerrigan skated the best two performances of her career but was edged out of the gold medal by the 16-year-old Baiul. Baiul became the world's sweetheart, the plucky ingenue orphan. Kerrigan became the whiny poor sport, overheard complaining about being situated next to Mickey Mouse on a parade float while on a Disney World junket, and even her marriage to Solomon was looked at askance, coming as it did only two months after his divorce.
But things are never quite what they seem. On Jan. 12, at the same time that 19-year-old wild child Baiul was drunkenly skidding her $100,000 Mercedes off a Connecticut road at 97 mph, 27-year-old Kerrigan was up giving Matthew his 2 a.m. feeding. Who really emerged from Lillehammer as the winner?
"I'm just lucky I have the family support I've always had," says Kerrigan, who lives in Lynnfield, Mass., 10 minutes from the house in Stoneham where she grew up. "My family knocks me down if I'm floating too high. Not everyone has that. My father worked two jobs when we were growing up, but he came home every night for dinner before going to his night job. I really liked that. That's important for a family."
She'd like to have three children-the same number her parents, Dan and Brenda, had. And although she has no plans to return to the Olympics, Kerrigan intends to keep skating, at least until Matthew is school-age and no longer able to be her traveling companion. "I like that he can come with me to the rink," she says. "It's healthy for both of us that I'm skating."
She plans to bring Matthew along on the Campbell's tour, with her doting mother in tow to babysit. "Matthew's pretty easy," Kerrigan says. "He's already changed so much in two months, I can't imagine being away from home for any length of time. It's work to be a mom, but it's fun. I want to teach him respect for himself and respect for other people. I want to teach him to treat people the way he wants to be treated.
"I love to perform, but this is more important."
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