Fame & Fortune: Scott Hamilton

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Skating champion Scott Hamilton has surpassed what his parents, doctors, coaches and even himself, ever thought possible. Born in 1958 in Toledo, Ohio, he was adopted by a couple from Bowling Green, also in Ohio, at 6 weeks old. At 2 years of age, he suddenly stopped growing and doctors were unable to come up with a definitive diagnosis. After his illness was mistaken as cystic fibrosis, his parents sent him to Boston’s Children’s Hospital where his ailment began to correct itself with a special diet and moderate exercise, including ice skating.

Now possibly the most recognized male figure skating star in the world, Hamilton took third place in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 1980 and won a place on the U.S. Olympic team. He finished fifth at the Olympics in Lake Placid that same year.

Over the next four years, he won national and world skating events, ultimately capturing the gold medal at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, in what is now the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

After turning professional, he appeared in the Ice Capades and has been a frequent skating and Olympic commentator on network television. Earlier this year, Hamilton appeared on “Celebrity Apprentice” but ultimately got “fired” from the competition by Donald Trump.

Over his life, Hamilton has faced adversity of a different kind. He battled testicular cancer in 1997, and more recently in 2004, he was treated for a benign brain tumor.

This year, the former Olympic champion released his book, “The Great Eight,” in which he shares his many challenges and successes. In this interview with Bankrate, Hamilton discusses the challenges he’s faced, as well as his love of skating, his career, and his life with wife Tracey and sons Aidan, 5, and Maxx, 1.

Bankrate: In 1981, you won the World Figure Skating Championships. Since then, you’ve seen peaks and valleys,  professionally and personally. Take me on that journey, naming three big turning points in your life that have helped you get to where you are today.

Scott Hamilton: A lot of them came from unfortunate circumstances. One of the biggest turning points was when I had a childhood illness and started skating. For years, I was in and out of hospitals, and they couldn’t diagnose what was going on. They finally gave up until Dr. Harry Shwachman told my mom he couldn’t figure out what was going on and that I should just go home and live a normal life. So I started skating and started getting better.

The next biggest event was the death of my mother. That was one of those horrific realizations that you should be living your life differently. She sacrificed everything to keep me in skating because she knew that gave me my health. She sacrificed many of her own comforts. She had no luxuries in her life because of the cost of skating. When she passed away, I realized that I was really underachieving, and I wasn’t honoring her commitment to me to keep me in skating and to give me life. So I decided on the morning she passed away that I needed to do better. From then on, skating took on a whole different role in my life and I actually started to achieve.

The latest one came after my testicular cancer and getting through that (and) the brain tumor in 2004. I had a wife and a young son and had waited a long time for that, then only to be diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was only 14 months old.

Bankrate: You just announced your return to the ice last month?

Scott Hamilton: Yes, actually Oprah did it (laughs). When you make a commitment to do something, that’s one thing; when it’s made public, it’s another thing. They were doing a piece on “Montel Williams” and his health problems, and they wanted to talk to familiar people who had their own health issues, so they talked to Magic Johnson, Fran Drescher and me. As part of my interview, I said every time my health has been challenged, every time my life has been challenged, skating has gotten me through it. So I said, “OK, let’s get back on the ice.”

Bankrate: You’re 50 years old now and returning to skating. Do you ever sit back and think you are financially stable and don’t have to go out there and prove yourself anymore?

Scott Hamilton: I could do that. It just depends on lifestyle. We all choose how we’re going to live, and I think you can always do more. But I feel I need to set an example for my kids. I need to work. I need to show them a work ethic. I need to be healthy for them. I’m at an age now where I could be building my finances and investments toward retirement, but I kind of retired for five years. Skating and the industry have changed and the whole business model has gone completely upside down. But I’ve realized that throughout my life when my health has been challenged, skating has given me that health. So I need to be on the ice.

Bankrate: What does financial stability mean to you, especially since you had to quit skating in 1976 due to financial struggles?

Scott Hamilton: A couple from Chicago came to my rescue and started supporting my skating. They were amazing. Without them, I probably would have gone to college in 1976 and never would have been anything in skating. I would have been a junior national champion who had to stop skating because of financial reasons. This couple loved skating and didn’t want to see someone with promise retire or quit because of financial inability when they had plenty of financial ability. They became very involved in my life, especially her. He passed away in 1979, but she was like a mom to me until she passed away a few years ago.

Bankrate: What age would you like to be at right now and why?

Scott Hamilton: I want to be 50. I’m enjoying life. I’ve seen so many people deal with the devil and that means trying to be something they’re not, trying to be younger than they are, trying to deny where they are in their lives. Well, you know what, I’m 50, and what I do now at 50 is probably a lot different than what I did at 25. But I feel leaner, more energetic most of the time than I did before and, looking at my kids, I think, I’m doing the right things for them by being in the best shape I can be in. I need to be physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy.

Bankrate: What’s easier for you to take, losing a skating competition or hearing the words “you’re fired”?

Scott Hamilton: Oh gosh, “you’re fired.” What a great gift that was. That was awesome. But all that work went into a disappointing result. Getting off “Celebrity Apprentice” was the best thing that could have happened to me. When I went in, I took the high road. I wanted to make friends. I wanted to team build and wanted to lock elbows with my guys and win these tasks. But what I realized was that the whole nature of this game was to be the winner at all costs. I was so naïve. And Mr. Trump loves winners; he’s a winner. He’s self-made, pretty much. He went from having millions to hundreds of millions, but the show is about team shredding. The more I watched the people I got to know, and see how they were fighting for $250,000 for charity, to me that would have been toxic to my soul to stay longer than I did.

It was rough. I didn’t have the skill sets to pull it off, whether it was being business savvy or having that killer-instinct personality to be able to throw every single one of those guys under the bus. I was embarrassed at getting dismissed so early but when I watched it with my wife, we both thought it was the best thing that could happen to me.