The name Suzy Favor-Hamilton might not ring many bells. She's not one of our current Olympic heroes. She's one of the forgotten track stars of the 1990s and early 2000s. Olympic stars come and go, and every four years someone new comes up to take their place. Favor-Hamilton was a three-time American Olympian. This is an extraordinary achievement — one that will likely be swallowed up in the recent revelation that for the past year, Hamilton, though balancing a career as a real estate agent and motivational speaker, was also working as an escort earning $600 per hour. Why? To fill a void left by depression. To find a way to fight the perfection she felt she had to achieve. To fight the isolation and anonymity that comes with being a forgotten athlete.
I'll be the first to admit I don't understand her actions. I don't know why she would risk everything — her life, her family, and her reputation, to work as an escort. The mysteries surrounding the story are many. But I do know, having been a world class swimmer in my teenage years, that sometimes your demons get the better of you.
Olympic sports and their stars are like firecrackers. They are lit and they explode just as quickly into open air. And then they are gone in one explosion. Once every four years they come around and then just as quickly, they vanish. And then the Olympic hero has to move on with his or her life. What to do next? Can I do anything else? These are all questions the athlete ponders after finishing a stellar career. And then depression sets in.
The Olympic athlete often carries within them a drive for perfection that is never matched in reality. The drive is all consuming, like a internal demon. Favor-Hamilton felt this drive for perfection over take her at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, when she had the fastest time going in, and revealed she fell on purpose because she realized she could not win the race. Better to fall than face the internal battle with oneself of having failed to live up to a fictionalized perfection.
What looks perfect from the outside never is. What seems easy and enjoyable comes with a price that few understand. Favor-Hamilton herself cannot understand why she did what she did. Maybe she missed the adrenaline that comes with being one of the world's fastest runners. Maybe she sought danger and excitement that was missing from her life. Maybe she just wanted to fill a void that nothing in her life could fill up.
To Favor-Hamilton, thank you for your honesty. The embarrassment would have to be enough to want to hide under a rock. But your struggles are human, and while they don't make sense, they make perfect sense. Perfection is its own prison. And few people know that more than an Olympic athlete, former and present.