Unbreakable

Ice legend Scott Hamilton opens up about his double cancer survival

Scott Hamilton
SARAJEVO, YUGOSLAVIA - FEBRUARY 1984: Gold medalist Scott Hamilton (USA) skates with the USA flag following the medal ceremony for the Men's Singles competition in the 1984 Winter Olympics; he is followed on the ice by Brian Orser (CAN) and Jozef Sabovcik (CZE). (Photo David Madison/Getty Images)

Unshakeable determination gave Scott Hamilton the fame and money he wanted, along with an extraordinary notoriety for coming back when it looked like cancer would strike him down.

"I always thought if I could be really good on the ice I could become famous. I think I'm probably more known for my health problems now than I am for anything I ever did on skates," Olympic champion figure skater Scott Hamilton laughs as he begins his story for I Am Second.

That seems difficult to believe if you know anything at all about the Ohio-born skater's professional achievements.

He began figure skating as a child and won 15 consecutive championships before going on to win gold at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics.

He turned pro, renowned for his short stature (he stands at 5'2.5'') and back flips he claims are just for the crowd, no extra points awarded.

In 1997 he became the first figure skater ever to be inducted into the Madison Square Garden Walk of Fame. He founded the touring show Stars on Ice in 1986, and became a skating commentator for television.

His health problems would need to be rather severe to overshadow such achievements; and they were.

They began when he was two years old with a long undiagnosed condition that impaired his growth for several years.

He began skating "kind of by accident" he says, and took to it immediately. He was told he had six months to live, and his miraculous recovery was attributed to intense physical activity in the cold atmosphere of the rink.

Testicular cancer in 1997 led to a lengthy recovery and break from competition.

Like many who confront cancer, this experience prompted him to reconsider his purpose; particularly because his mother had been taken by cancer a few years earlier.

"A big part of the dust settling was getting with Tracie," he says, referring to his wife.

"She brought me to the church and took me to a minister who told me, 'Christianity is a faith of history. These things actually happened. So just study what has happened and see how that resonates in your own life.'

"It grew from there."

Then a third blow came. Two years into their marriage, when their miracle son was 14 months old, Scott developed a brain tumor.

Scott says when he told Tracie she "took my hands, and without hesitation she started to pray.

Scott Hamilton onstage
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 3,2016: Former figure skater and Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton onstage during A Capitol Fourth - Rehearsals. (Photo Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Capital Concerts)

"It was in that moment I knew where I was going to put everything. From that moment forward, we just said, 'Whatever it is, whatever it takes, we'll face this.'"

That tumor, incredibly, turned out to be the explanation for the halt in his growth when he was a child.

"That was the mysterious illness they had never diagnosed, that got me into skating," Scott explains.

"Who would I be without a brain tumor?" He says he chose to look at it as "the greatest gift I could have got, because it made everything else possible".

The tumor returned six years after Scott had been cleared by doctors. But in no way does he let it hinder his life.

Last year, Scott returned to the ice with his son Maxx for their show Musselman's Apple Sauce Family Skating Tribute.

He co-founded his non-profit C.A.R.E.S. Initiative (Cancer Alliance for Research, Education and Survivorship), and released two autobiographical books in 1999 and in 2009.

"When I look back and I see all those little moments in my life when I needed a great deal of strength, I really understand that through a strong relationship with Jesus you can endure anything," Scott says.

And he would know.

"I just learned that the only true disability in life is a bad attitude.

"God is there to guide you through the tough spots." He smiles, "God was there for me, every single time."

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