SALT LAKE CITY — Scott Hamilton pulled back the curtain on his family life, sharing never-before-seen photos and stories that drew laughter and tears from the audience during his RootsTech remarks on Friday.
The Olympic gold medalist in mens figure skating, television broadcaster, author and cancer survivor spoke of his parents and other parental figures, along with his wife and children, all the people who have helped him on his life's journey.
What wasn't shared was how Hamilton took time Thursday night to meet with a fan who he inspired during the young man's recent battle with a brain tumor.
"If we have the opportunity to be light, let's be light," Hamilton told the Deseret News. "I always try to be available to whoever needs help and share my experiences that are common, like cancer."
Will Michael, a 27-year-old figure skater who lives in the Salt Lake area, first met Hamilton in 2002 while participating in a program for the opening and closing ceremonies. He was the understudy for the main role. When the main role didn't show, Michael, then age 10, said he panicked and had a tearful breakdown. Hamilton skated over and cheered him up.
"He inspired me," Michael said. "It was the first moment I overcame my fear, and I did that through the help of Scott Hamilton. That's why I started skating competitively."
Michael continued to skate over the next 15 years, leading him to take a job skating on a cruise ship last year. As the ship floated near Thailand, Michael started to have a severe headache. It became so bad that the ship had to make an emergency stop in Thailand. Doctors found a tumor in his brain and operated immediately. He was eventually flown back to Utah and doctors removed the tumor. Some complications occurred and he was in a medically induced coma for eight days.
While Michael was in the coma, his casting director reached out to Hamilton and shared Michael's story. When he woke up from the coma, Michael was greeted by an encouraging video message from his favorite Olympic figure skater. The video served as inspiration for Michael has he remained in the hospital for an extended period of time. One of Hamilton's oft-quoted lines, "The only disability in life is a bad attitude," strengthened Michael during that hard time, he said.
"In the video he said, 'Man, that is a lot to endure in a short amount of time. But hey we're both skaters, right? We know that no matter how hard it gets, no matter how hard we fall, we get up every single time. And that's what I expect from you, my friend! Shrug this off. Please know that I'm thinking of you and praying for you, and man, I can't wait to shake your hand someday,'" Michael said. "My first thought was, 'Scott Hamilton wants to shake my hand? He's been my hero for 15 years, and he wants to shake my hand?"
That handshake took place Thursday evening as Hamilton arrived in town for RootsTech. When Michael learned Hamilton was coming to RootsTech, he started making calls to everyone he could think of. His efforts paid off as Michael was invited to visit with Hamilton for about an hour at the KSL Triad Center.
"I'm still in shock from our meeting. It was amazing," said Michael, who hopes to write a book about his experiences. "I got to shake his hand and swap some brain tumor stories. It was an incredible experience. ... It feels like this experience has come full circle."
Hamilton has survived multiple brain tumors, testicular cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Life would be boring without these kinds of adventures, Hamilton said.
"We try to do good things, right? We try to be involved in other people's lives. We don't know the impact sometimes," Hamilton said. "With him, I was blown away by his story. What I did for him was beyond anything I ever thought possible. It was just extraordinary. What a blessing to be so instrumental in somebody's healing, in somebody's recovery from something so horrific. ... It's powerful stuff.
Hamilton recalled a friend once telling him that on any given afternoon we might be diagnosed with stage IV cancer or we could get hit by a bus. Life is unpredictable, so live joyfully, live productively, and look at every opportunity to impact somebody positively. "I think about that all the time," he said.
It was a message Hamilton worked into his keynote address as well, in the context of loving and remembering those special people in your family.
Hamilton was adopted at six weeks old. He was raised by two college professors, with his father being the strict, disciplined one, and his mother being the loving, kind, self-sacrificing one. Although he didn't look like anyone in his family, people said he most looked like his mother.
"That's because you always resemble the ones that love you most," Hamilton said in his address. "My mother was the center of my universe."
When he was young, other kids teased and bullied Hamilton because he was adopted. His mother instructed him how to respond, and sure enough it worked: "Yes, I was adopted. My parents chose me and your parents got stuck with whatever came out."
After four years of never-ending trips to the hospital for a mystery sickness that was never diagnosed, Hamilton's parents were encouraged to drop him at the ice rink and take some time for themselves. This was his introduction to ice skating. Hamilton described the many times he fell down while developing his talents on the ice, eventually resulting in success.
As Hamilton got older and began competing on a national and world level, he developed special relationships with other adults who sponsored him and looked out for his best interests. He viewed them as second fathers and mothers when his own parents couldn't be there.
Hamilton also spoke of his wife, Tracie, "the greatest gift he has ever received," and how she has blessed his life. He feared they wouldn't be able to have kids because of his cancer, but they "got to work and we prayed hard," he said. They had their first son nine months and two days after they were married. Tracie Hamilton had a second son before the couple adopted two children from Haiti.
"God was directing our steps," Hamilton said. "I was given the incredible gift of a family."
Hamilton summarized his RootsTech message by encouraging people to celebrate and honor the past, "because without our past, our present has no meaning. And our future is worthless," he said.
"We honor our past. We honor those that came before us. We show our gratitude by remembering them, by celebrating them, by finding out who they are," Hamilton said. "As I think back and remember all those amazing times, where I had so many mothers and a couple of great fathers, I just am charmed, and almost taken back by how it all starts, with a first date."
With a backdrop of a photo of his parent, he shared some of their story.5 comments on this story
"Those two people had dreams, they had aspirations, they desperately wanted to forge a bond that would change everything," he said. "And they did. My mom, my dad, came together without knowing what their future held, but decided to do it in faith, with integrity, and with an abundance of love. That’s why we are all here. We are here to celebrate love, we are here to celebrate family, we are here to solve mysteries and to truly understand our identity. Oh boy, does it get any richer than that?"
Hamilton continued: "Life is what we make it, but it’s also the life that we’ve been given that comes with incredible responsibility to make the next generations’ choices and opportunities better than the ones that we were given."
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