Olympic gold medalist skater, and cancer survivor Scott Hamilton brought a message of perseverance, and hope, to Salina Thursday evening. Hamilton was the featured speaker at the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual banquet and membership meeting .
Hamilton met with the media prior to the banquet. He touched on topics ranging from the 1980 Olympic hockey team, calling it “the most patriotic thing I have ever been a part of”, to the Nancy Kerrigan / Tonya Harding incident prior to the 1994 Winter Olympics saying “it nearly destroyed skating”. Hamilton mentioned his friend Eric Heiden, one of the greatest speed skaters of all time. He said he personally is inspired by something Heiden once said, “it’s not the events in your life that define you, it’s how you deal with them”.
After speaking with the media, Hamilton then again spoke to the assembled chamber members with an inspirational message message of overcoming everything life throws at you, no matter what it is.
Hamilton spoke about being teased and bullied as a child because of his size, because he was adopted, and because he was an ice skater. He was very small, and was not developing normally. After four years of multiple hospitals and tests, doctors could not determine what was wrong with him. His parents were told to take him home and live as normal and comfortable a life as possible for whatever time he might have left.
Hamilton first started skating on Saturday mornings, when a family friend would take him to an ice rink so his parents could get a little rest. He was not good at first, but pretty soon he was skating as good as the best athletes in his school. His illness went away.
Hamilton’s first national championship competition was in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in front of 17,500 people. He fell five times and took last. He did not do much better the next year, either.
Around that time his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. The last time she saw Scott skate, he took last in a competition in Denver. She died shortly after that. The morning he lost her, Hamilton went on a walk, and did a lot of reflection. He decided to take his mother with him everywhere he went, in everything he did, “to mourn and honor her”.
Hamilton’s passion and perseverance took him to the Olympics, where in 1980 he carried the American flag in the opening ceremonies. From 1981 – 1984 he never lost a competition.
Hamilton’s life would come full circle 10 years later, when like his mother, he was diagnosed with cancer. He overcame testicular cancer. But his battles with cancer weren’t over. He later was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor, which doctors believe was the reason he was so small. He credits his wife, and the power of prayer, in helping him overcome the tumor, and cancer for a second time.
Along the way, again against the odds, Hamilton and his wife had two children. In recent months they have adopted two more as well, from Haiti. Hamilton says his wife became passionate about helping after the devastating 2010 earthquake, visiting the country 20 times in the past two and half years to help.
Hamilton challenged the audience to “make everyday the best day in your life”, and went on to say “no matter what happens, own it”. He concluded “we must pass it on to our children in a positive, healthy, loving, patient way.” Hamilton ended by saying “celebrate life”.
Scott Hamilton is one of the most recognized male figure skating star in the world. He has won 70 titles, awards and honor including an Emmy Award nomination, induction into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame and a member of the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame. He captured the attention of the world 30 years ago with his Olympic Gold medal performances in Saravejo and since has shared his love and enthusiasm for the sport as a commentator, performer and best-selling author. He further inspires others as a speaker, philanthropist and cancer and pituitary brain tumor survivor.
The chamber has a history of bringing big name speakers for the event. Last year Mike Huckabee spoke. Previous speakers have included NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, former Alaska Governor and Vice-President candidate Sarah Palin, Former President George Bush, Former British Prime Minister John Major, Bob Costas, and Cal Ripken Jr., among others.