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What I Know Now: Scott Hamilton

The Olympic skating champ on cancer, hope and how to survive success

Scott Hamilton On Skates

Jason Myers

Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton has won 70 titles, awards and honors over the course of his career.

Before heading to South Korea to cover the 2018 Winter Olympics for NBC, Scott Hamilton, 59, talked with AARP about life, health challenges and his doppelgänger. 

Here comes the sun

I start my day by looking at the way the sun illuminates my scars because they’re most vivid in natural light. To me, they’re badges of honor. The biggest cut is the one that goes all the way down my abdomen, from the testicular cancer surgery I had in 1997. It represents healing, not illness.

Growing up fearless

I was a small, sickly kid. I was misdiagnosed with cystic fibrosis at one point and given six months to live. Yes, it’s traumatic, but after that, what’s to be scared of?

No destiny

I wasn’t a prodigy. For many years my ambition in competitions was just to not come in last. Nobody, least of all me, ever believed I was on any kind of superstar trajectory. But all that disappointment gave me a sense of destination. Not destiny, not something larger than life, but of destination, which was concrete and practical and day by day.

Trophies begone

I gave most of my medals away. My Olympic gold from ’84 sat in the back of an underwear drawer for eight years. I had this terrible recurring vision of spending the rest of my life waving from my parade float. Success can sometimes be just as paralyzing as failure. I looked at that gold medal as sort of an idol. 

Tumor, take three

The first time I heard “brain tumor” — in 2004 — there was shock and fear. Even though it wasn’t malignant, it was still something that could kill me if it wasn’t removed. The second time, in 2010, when they told me the tumor had grown back, I felt kicked in the stomach. But the third time, last year, I thought: Get strong. The tumor isn’t growing, so the best course of action is to keep an eye on it while not giving it anything it wants. So I’m drinking lots of high-pH water, I’ve eliminated sugar from my diet, I get good sleep, and I exercise as much as possible.

Pray tell

Praying is a very simple and very complex thing in my life. And it reminds me that life is precious and to be lived joyfully. This hasn’t always been the case. It began when the woman who later became my wife just straight up asked, “Where are you in your relationship with Jesus Christ?” And I said what any smart guy in that situation would say, which was, “Where do you want me to be?”

My doppelgänger

Do I get mistaken for Mark Hamill? All. The. Time. Everywhere, it’s “Hi, Mark!” and “Use the Force.” The weirdest thing is that many of these people know I’m a skater, not a Jedi, and still call me Mark.

— As told to Andrew Corsello