The champion figure skater Scott Hamilton has proven, over and over again, that there is no challenge too big to overcome.
This 1984 Olympic gold medalist spent the first part of his childhood battling an unknown disease that made him temporarily stop growing at the age of two. Hamilton had never been on the ice at that point, and the activity was suggested simply as something to do now that he was home and healthy, to make him feel like a ‘normal’ kid again. Fast, confident, and talented, Hamilton turned his small size into an asset, and won numerous national and world titles as well as an Olympic gold medal. He has been inducted into both the Olympic Hall of Fame and the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame.
In 1997, Hamilton was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He fought the disease, and became an inspiration to a whole new audience of people when he founded the Scott Hamilton CARES Initiative, an educational web site that helps cancer patients better understand their disease and treatment. But there were more challenges still to come: in 2004, Hamilton was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which may provide some answers to the illness he suffered as a child.
As illustrious as his career on the ice may have been, his fans most admire his optimism, courage, and fortitude as he faces down his medical challenges with the same exemplary grace and boldness he displayed on the ice.
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The MY HERO Project
by Scott Hamilton
I've met six presidents, royal families, and industry leaders, but not one of them measures up to the standards of courage, strength, and integrity that my mother, Dorothy Hamilton possessed. She continues to guide and inspire me, in everything I have accomplished in my skating career, throughout all my health problems, and in my life as a father and husband.
The optimism, energy, and enthusiasm my mother maintained throughout her life, especially in devastating circumstances, was amazing. She didn't need to recite old cliches and parental words of wisdom to inspire us. She led by example, her actions exemplifying the values she intended to instill. She never had to say, "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade." She showed us by living it. Her life was filled with challenges. When she and my father were starting their family, she had several miscarriages, and lost two babies at birth. She gave birth to twins, but only my older sister survived, and her second baby died just a few hours after he was born. Even with these losses, she didn't retreat into a shell or feel sorry for herself. Instead she announced to my father, "We are going to move ahead. We are going to take a bad situation and make it better, by doing what we always wanted to do. We are going to have a family." They adopted me, and then a few years later, adopted my brother. In a family portrait, we look like total strangers, but Mom tied us all together.
I was very close to my mother, in part because of the unbreakable bond that we formed when I was very young, going in and out of hospitals with an undiagnosable illness. Although she did have to work to support the family, she took as much time away as she could to be with me. She’d either sleep in a chair in my room, or commute back and forth between the hospital and home. She drove back and forth to hospitals in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Toledo, Ohio, and went up to the children's hospital in Boston to meet with the specialist there. She must have been exhausted, but she never showed it; she was always focused on helping me to forget that I was living in a sterile environment, away from home, with doctors sticking needles in me all the time. From my perspective as a child, it looked effortless, but I now know how difficult it must have been. She made great sacrifices to be by my side.
As mysteriously as it had appeared, my illness subsided. (It turned out to be a brain tumor I was born with, one that went undetected until it returned to make its latest mischief in 2004.) After all those years of being sick, I turned to skating as a way to reenter life as a normal kid. When I found that I actually enjoyed skating and was good at it, my mom sacrificed everything to make sure that I could continue. She returned to school to get her master's degree so that she could become a professor at Bowling Green University, and became a marital and family counselor, where she was able to do a tremendous amount of good.
It's been nearly three decades since my mother lost her battle with cancer. I know from my mother's experience, and from my own, that nobody wants a cancer diagnosis, and yet, everyone who gets one finds a part of their being that they didn't know existed. It was brutal to watch her in such pain, but as with everything she did, she set an example by showing those around her how to live every last moment and not take anything for granted.
Before she died, she told me, "Some people are given more of life's minutes than others; no matter what, we have to take advantage of the minutes we are given." Mom used her minutes to make life better for her family, her students, and everyone else whose lives she touched. She protected us from seeing any of the anxiety or pain she might have been feeling by finding a way to make us laugh. "Finally, I found a way to lose this weight," she'd say, or "What do you think of my new hair style?" after she went through chemotherapy. She always kept it light and happy, so that we wouldn't worry.
She continued her work helping people through counseling, even when she was very ill. At one point, she was talking with a young couple about to break off their engagement. The woman had lost both breasts to cancer, and even though her fiancé still loved her very much, she felt he deserved better. My mother knew what it felt like to have a mastectomy and to go through cancer treatments, and was able to bolster the young bride’s self-esteem. One of the bright spots for my mom at the end of her life was the phone call from that couple, telling her that the wedding was back on.
One of the last things my mother did in her life was to find a sponsor for me, ensuring that I would be able to continue my skating career. She wanted to secure my future, a future that she suspected might not include her. Mom taught me to take responsibility for my talent. She knew I could succeed, and she believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. When she died, I threw myself into skating; it seemed like a way that I could honor her with my life, the way she had honored me with hers. I found the answer on the ice. She had sacrificed so much for me to be able to use my talent, and I had been running around acting like I didn’t give a damn; the time had come to maximize my gift, so that it didn’t go to waste. Winning the Olympic gold medal in Sarajevo was the culmination of all the big dreams my mother had cherished for my career. My performance that night was for her.
Unfortunately, I came up against my own medical challenges later in my life, and although my mother had been gone for many years, she continued to inspire and guide me. When I was diagnosed with cancer, remembering how strong and optimistic and dignified she was when she went through chemotherapy helped me through my own treatment. And when I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, I immediately thought about what my mother would have done. Knowing that she would have found the silver lining gave me a new perspective. Instead of letting cancer (or any of the other terrible losses and heartbreaks that she suffered in her life) bring her down to where she couldn’t function, my mother drew strength from these trials, and elevated herself. It was very important to her to keep a very strong face, and to continue to approach life as if every new day was a gift. In doing so, she set a great example for me and others.
Page created on 9/22/2006 12:00:00 AM
Last edited 8/28/2018 2:13:15 AM
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