NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Scott Hamilton remembers launching into a spin above the ice one day in late
summer. The 1984 Olympic men’s figure skating champion was in the middle of training for his comeback
after five years of official retirement, and he was attempting his first double axel in seven years.
Two-and-a-half twists later, he touched down, gliding backward, and nailed it.
At that moment in a Franklin rink, as he breathed in the 40-degree air, his goal of returning to
professional skating at age 51 started to break the horizon.
"It was probably one of the best double axels I’ve ever done in my life," said the Williamson
County resident over a grilled chicken salad after a recent practice. "I felt, well, if that’s
going to happen, then everything else is probably going to come back."
Much of it has. But since Hamilton started training last fall to prepare for a fundraising event in
Cleveland on Saturday, he’s been buffeted by trials. In August, he pulled his hamstring; in October, the
flu pummeled him for three weeks. Some days, it was all he could do to skate for a minute or two; he had
to be content with just breaking in new skates.
"It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life," he said.
Hamilton isn’t after medals this time; he’s after money. Specifically, he wants to use skating to raise
as much cash for research as possible, so that he can see cancer beaten in his lifetime.
By his own account, Hamilton started his odyssey back to the ice in poor shape. When doctors attacked a
benign brain tumor inside his skull with "gamma knife" radiation in 2004, his pituitary gland
was "nuked," as he puts it, and the resulting hormone imbalances rejiggered his body
chemistry. He uses words like "portly" to describe how he looked after the treatment and years
"Everything was gone, gone, gone, gone," said Hamilton, his steely blue eyes opening wide.
"I could stand up on (skates), but I had no strength or muscle tone. Basically I was turning into a
Hamilton had tried to come back once before in early 2008, but he pulled a leg muscle so badly that he
gave up, dejected. This time, he worked with trainers in the gym to supplement his skating workouts,
forcing more power into his legs and core muscles to stave off injuries.
"Scott doesn’t know ‘no,’ " said Francis Fessler, a personal trainer who’s been working with
Hamilton in the gym. "If you tell him, ‘You can’t do that,’ he knows he can, and he will; and he
pushes it that way with everything that he does."
He’s also carved out time to spend with the young skaters who come to watch him practice at the A-Game
Sportsplex in Franklin.
"It’s been really instrumental to my top-rated skaters to watch him persevere like he does,"
said Laura Sanders, Hamilton’s skating coach and the director of the Southern Ice Skate School, which
operates out of the sportsplex. "He’s very personable with the younger kids."
Once he was comfortable on the ice, Hamilton started skating for three to four hours a day for four days
a week, plus strength conditioning sessions. With gritted teeth, he faced his foes: sore muscles, ugly
spills, long plateaus without any technical improvement.
"Physically, I’m definitely not the same person I was 25 years ago," he said. "But if you
make that a part of the equation, you’re digging a hole for yourself that you can’t even see out
So how does he keep his age from affecting him?
"In a word, denial."
Finding his new place in skating American figure skating has turned south since Hamilton was at his peak.
The judging scandal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City prompted a new scoring system that’s
not as easy for laypeople to understand. Many skaters, Hamilton included, have publicly complained that
the new way of scoring values mechanics over artistry.
In 2007, ABC ended its 43-year relationship with U.S. Figure Skating, the sport’s American governing
body. Its new deal with NBC has been reported to be far less lucrative. The next year, the long-running
Champions on Ice tour folded and merged with the Smuckers Stars on Ice tour. No marquee star has risen
from American ice since Michelle Kwan, and she’s been out of the spotlight for three years.
Hamilton sees plenty of things he doesn’t like, but it’s still home to him. He couldn’t stay away
"I’d lost significance," he said, looking back on his retirement years. "I always felt
like I was doing the most important thing I could do by being a full-time dad and being home, but I
really needed balance . . . I really wanted to be a part of the skating community again."
But not the skating community as it exists now. Hamilton wants to go back to the glory days, when skaters
were stars, before showmanship bowed to technique.
"Economically, the sport has just gone into a tailspin; where do I belong in all that?" he
said. "Maybe I can bring back in a significant way a lot of the skaters who were really popular
when skating was at its peak, and have them do special things that will bring more folks’ attention to
the entertainment side of skating, which has all but gone away."
‘Maybe we can get rid of this thing’ In August 2008, Hamilton’s wife, Tracie, threw him an enormous
surprise 50th birthday party in Los Angeles. Amid the candles and celebrating, something heavy hit him.
"My mother died at 49, and to have lost her — and she was the most important person in my life — and
to realize that I lived longer than she did and I survived cancer, it was a really strong reminder that
I’ve got to do better," he said.
Hamilton fought a well-publicized battle with testicular cancer in 1997; after chemotherapy and surgery,
he returned to the ice with a burning will to raise money for cancer research. When the brain tumor
surfaced seven years later, he took time off to spend time with his wife and two sons, but as he gets
ready to go back to skating, his fire is undiminished.
He is frank about his ultimate goal: to whip cancer within his lifetime. His comeback on Saturday is a
fundraiser for the Cleveland Clinic, where he was treated for the testicular cancer and the brain tumor.
"If it’s a real sense of support or morbid curiosity, whatever’s going to spin that turnstile and
get more people in the building . . . if I can build that interest and build some sort of momentum
through events that will raise more money, then I’ve won," he said.
Even though he’s poured so much work into getting back into shape, Hamilton says how he skates doesn’t
matter as much as the cause. Sure, it would be nice to pull off the backflip that used to electrify
crowds, but that move and others might not come back.
"What I’d like to be the final word," he says, "is that we were able to fund more and more
research projects, and maybe one of those will unlock the mysteries of the cancer cell and we can get
rid of this thing forever. Who knows? It may be a drop in the bucket, but that’s still more than there