He’s one of the most recognizable people in sports.
But even though his days of wowing the crowds on the Olympic ice might be over, gold medalist Scott Hamilton, 62, continues to inspire through his nonprofit endeavors that include the cancer-focused Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation and the Scott Hamilton Skating Academy, which aims to make skating accessible to all ages and abilities.
On Oct. 15, he’ll be the featured speaker at the 21st annual Champions for Children Awards Luncheon benefiting Helping Hand Home, which runs a residential treatment and foster care program for children healing from physical, emotional and sexual abuse, neglect or abandonment.
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We recently chatted by phone with Hamilton, who is a cancer survivor and was adopted and has two adopted children, about everything from quarantine life to hard work to giving back. Below are excerpts from that interview.
You’ve been quarantined at home in Tennessee with your wife and children, ages 19, 17, 16 and 12. How’s it going?
It is what it is. We just do the best we can with what we’ve got. It’s been a challenge. In some ways beautiful, and other ways, it’s been frustrating to see so many people suffering. I’m the one person that needs to stay away and make sure I don’t get this virus, and I’ve been pretty disciplined about that.
Have you had a lot of time with your kids?
Oh, boy, they’re probably really sick of me right now. It’s been really beautiful for that, being around the table every night having dinner. School’s back in session and the kids are getting busy with their activities, though. My daughter’s playing soccer, and she had a game last night. We’ll get through this. I wore a T-shirt last night that said, "This too shall pass," and I believe that. Nothing is ever permanent.
How did you decide to dedicate this phase of your life to philanthropy?
I think I’ve been given a unique opportunity to build a platform and use it for good things to give back and to pay it backward and pay it forward. I was adopted, so it feels really good to be a part of this program with Helping Hand Home that helps kids find homes and get into homes, and looks after children that don’t have parents. There were six weeks when I didn’t have any parents. I don’t remember, but it was a part of my world. On the cancer side, I lost my mom to cancer, and then I survived. To be part of the cancer world and to try to be part of the solution has been a real privilege and a lot of work. On the skating side, skating has given me a great deal. To give back through the skating academy and building an infrastructure that serves kids is remarkable and fun and awesome. It’s just been natural to do that.
What’s it like knowing so many people watched you and were inspired by you?
It’s been miraculous in a way that I never planned most of it. You keep putting one step in front of the other, and pretty soon you’ve gone a long way. When I started skating, it was to do something on Saturdays to give my parents a day off to allow them to refresh their batteries. Skating was one of those things that gave me something to do, gave me a reason to get out of bed, gave me identity, gave me self-esteem. I never thought, Day One, this was going to be an Olympic journey, and then it kind of happened due to a lot of phenomenal circumstances.
What’s your secret to success?
Like most people, you look back on things and go, "That was really unlikely." The main thing is showing up every day with the idea that you’re going to really get better. The next step is really committing to the long haul. So much about today’s society, especially the kids that grew up native to the digital world, everything is instant gratification. It’s really hard for them to build that muscle in their psyches in their day to day and look at something as a long haul. Look at where you want to be in a year, five and 10 years. It’s really hard for kids to wrap their heads around that. … Failure is 100% information. It’s not a disfiguring, horrible thing that smothers you. If we can just break it down to information, failure becomes a gift instead of a curse. Failure is a temporary thing. You fall down, you get up. I’ve done that over 41,000 times in my skating life.
Where do you hope to be in 10 years?
In 10 years, my kids will be building their lives, and my wife and I will be looking at each other (laughs). In 10 years, I’d like for cancer to be treated differently instead of it being something that is that injecting our body with life-destroying chemicals, where we’re able to ignite our own immune system to fight the cancer, or there’s a natural pathway that’s proven to reignite or rebalance or reconfigure your body to do miraculous things. The academy will continue to open up in different rinks around the country. If we’re able to start sending kids to international competitions and even the Olympics, that would be a great thing in 10 years. And, honestly, I’ll be 72. I want to be healthy in 10 years, so I’m kind of looking after that now. And just respecting the seasons and really just trying to grow my faith and serve people.
You and your wife adopted two children from Haiti. How has adoption informed your life?
The adoption thing is a really interesting phenomenon, because it’s a lot of things. For me, my parents were the only parents I ever knew. But for other kids, they’re adopted later, and with that comes a lot of trauma and identity issues. We really need to find ways of creating environments where those children can feel chosen instead of abandoned. It’s a really crazy thing. … (We adopted our children from Haiti) when they were 13 and 11. Haiti is a tough place, and the things that they’ve experienced and witnessed are really difficult. Just helping them understand that they are loved unconditionally and forever has been one of our biggest challenges. … It’s like the kids at Helping Hand Home. Those kids, they haven’t grown up like a lot of other kids, and they’ve got unique emotional and psychological challenges they have to rise above. As human beings, we have a unique capacity to love, to be compassionate, to be empathetic. Nowhere is that more important and rewarding than to pour into the life of a child, especially a child that has no one.
Why are you excited to speak at the Oct. 15 event?
Helping Hand Home serves children and families, and there’s nothing more difficult than to watch children grow up without security and love and support. They could truly help these children. Stability in a foster family is way better than not having anyone, and hopefully those children will become adopted. Looking at their annual report and fact sheet: They facilitated 140 adoptions since 2010. It’s just remarkable. It’s just beautiful. Adoption is probably one of the greatest extensions of love and humanity that anyone can ever express and be a part of.