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If you like Scott Hamilton's story, you might also like:
Tenley Albright,
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Scott Hamilton also appears in the video:
Perseverance and the American Dream

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Scott Hamilton in the Achievement Curriculum section:
The Amazing Olympic Games

Related Links:
USA Olympic Team
Scott Hamilton Cares Initiative

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Scott Hamilton
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Scott Hamilton Interview

Olympic Hall of Fame

June 29, 1996
Sun Valley, Idaho

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  Scott Hamilton

To start with, tell us a little about your childhood.

Scott Hamilton: I was adopted at six weeks old by two school teachers. My father was a professor of biology at Bowling Green State University. My mother was a second grade school teacher. As my skating got more expensive, she became an associate professor at Bowling Green in the home economics department. I was adopted because my parents had trouble having children. My sister is from my parents, and my brother and I were both adopted. I grew up blessed with loving parents and a great household.

Around the time I was two or three-years-old, it's all pretty mysterious, I stopped growing. And my parents noticed that I wasn't developing like the other children and it scared them a great deal. Because without knowing your family history, medical history, you really don't know how to react, or what to expect from your adopted children. So I went in and out of hospitals for a long period of time. I was misdiagnosed many, many times. Once with cystic fibrosis, and another time with Schwackman's Syndrome, which is a pancreatic enzyme deficiency. Basically what I had was a paralyzed, or a non-effective intestine system where I wasn't absorbing the food that I was eating.

We were in and out of hospitals, and I was on all these restricted diets. Finally, we went to see Harry Schwackman in Boston and he said, "It's not Schwackman's Syndrome. We've run every test, we can't find anything wrong with him. Let him lead a normal life and see what happens."

After years, and years, and years of living in hospitals and being away from other kids and not growing and not developing, I went home to live a normal life. And part of that was going to the skating rink every Saturday morning with our family doctor's kids, the Klepners' kids, and my sister was a part of the skating program. And it was one of those things that I could do probably better than the kids that were really tall and really muscular and everything else. And it gave me a way to express myself a little bit, just in a way that I could make my own schedule. I could determine my own development on the ice and improvement. And it gave me some self-esteem that I didn't have growing up because I was the shortest one in the class and sick and couldn't really compete -- couldn't play all those reindeer games, I guess. So I started skating and the illness completely went away.

When did you put on your first pair of skates, and did you think that you were going to make a career out of skating from that point on?

Scott Hamilton: I was nine years old when I first put on skates. It was a Saturday morning junior club at the brand new ice skating facility at Bowling Green State University. They wanted to have a hockey team. The trendy thing in a small town is, "Let's use the new place." So I was going out there every Saturday and I just picked it up. I improved rapidly. It was just something that I did.

I didn't really think that I was gifted or I didn't really think that I was super talented. I was just lucky to have a body that was the right proportion to pick up skating because I was pretty agile. And, the fact that I liked to show off and be the center of attention really lends itself to figure skating very well. But, I never really thought that I would be extraordinarily successful at skating. It's just something that happened, you know. And you get to a level of expertise or you get to a level competitively and you just try to be as good as you can be. I started winning competitions and I started improving in spurts that were really pretty fortunate because I was at a technical level that was higher than the rest of the guys that were my age, which happened kind of all at once. They were way ahead of me, then I caught up all at once.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

When you first put those skates on did you hear the Olympic theme in the background?

Scott Hamilton: No, it wasn't like, "He looked across the room and saw skates glowing in the corner. He stepped out of his wheelchair and it was a miracle!" It wasn't anything Hollywood like that.

I started skating and I kind of liked it because I could run circles around the guys that wouldn't pick me to play baseball. "We don't want him. He's too short. He can't hit the ball over second base." But I could skate circles around them. And I ended up playing hockey just out of peer pressure. I didn't want to be the sissy figure skater, you know. So I played hockey for three years and I did quite well. It's just a big man's sport, you know, and I really was undersized. So, figure skating was a great vehicle for me to kind of be competitive at something without having to be big.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

What was really funny is that as I got older all those guys who called me a sissy in junior high school wanted me to be their best friend because they wanted to meet all the girls that I knew in figure skating. "You know that little blond from Cleveland? Can you get me a date with her?" Life changes. It's pretty funny.

I graduated from high school, which was a negotiation, because I had switched schools so many times in my senior year that I missed some credits. I won the National Junior Championship in '76, the year I graduated from high school. I went into the principal of my school and he said, "You're about a credit and a half short. You need to figure out how we're going to get you out of this high school." And I said, "I'm threatening you right now. If you don't give me Physical Education credit, I'm coming back next year." He said, "That's enough for me. We don't want you back." So I got PE credit, which they had never given me before, because I was skating all the time and they figured, "You won a national title, I guess you're physically educated." So I just barely graduated high school.

Scott Hamilton Interview Photo
I was an okay student, I wasn't gifted or anything. I got through with Bs and Cs, and a few As here and there, if it interested me. I was more interested in skating and the girls and traveling than I was in calculus. My education was in the rink. I considered the four years from '81 to '84 to be my college education. I graduated a the top of my class in the '84 Olympic Games; I won a gold medal. I went undefeated for four years. From the fall of October, 1980 to March, 1984 I never lost a competition. That was probably the greatest accomplishment I could think of, and it set up the rest of my life.<

Was there a particular teacher who inspired you?

Scott Hamilton: There were a lot of teachers when I was growing up. I don't think most teachers realize how much impact they have. I had a ninth grade teacher who told me I was much smarter and much better than I was allowing myself to be. She was basically calling me a slacker. I always remembered that, because when I'd start getting ready for the season, I knew what I had to do in order to be in the right shape to be competitive, or to be better than I was last year. She gave me that sense of responsibility, to really follow through.

Another teacher I had was for eighth grade history in Ohio. He called everybody Mr. this, or Miss that. It was a sign of respect that no other teacher gave us. It was something that I always appreciated. I always liked being treated with respect at that age. Now I try to treat younger people with respect when I come into contact with, whether it be for charity events or whatever. I try to treat them as adults and not as little kids or children.

There were other teachers who would really go out of their way to entertain and to keep the classes interesting. I had an earth science teacher in tenth grade who was awesome. You just couldn't wait to get in there every day, because he had a great sense of humor, and he'd give you images of hillside creep. When you look at the soil coming down the hill and the trees are still staying up, and you couldn't figure out why they would do that, he'd explain all that. He'd draw monsters coming over the hills and he made everything entertaining and fun. He trusted his students not to cheat on tests, so half the time he'd leave the classroom to honor his confidence in us.

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