BRENTWOOD, Tenn. — Eight’s the number for Olympic skater Scott Hamilton.
Tracing figure eights in the ice is a key to mastering the fundamentals of skating. And paying attention to eight fundamental principles in life — including trust in God — leads to genuine contentment, the skater believes.
“It takes years of dedication and practice for a skater to create a perfect figure eight, and it’s no different in one’s pursuit of happiness,” Hamilton, who recently turned 50, writes in his new book, “The Great Eight: How to Be Happy (even when you have every reason to be miserable).”
Most people know Hamilton as the winner of the 1984 Olympic gold medal for men’s figure skating — and later as an ice-show star and television sportscaster.
But Hamilton’s Olympic victory and subsequent skating and media careers are just the most visible parts of a life with sharp twists and turns, including cancer, a brain tumor, and, in the past decade, marriage, baptism into Christ at Pepperdine University and a move to Nashville to focus on life with his wife and two young sons.
As he describes in his new book, Hamilton won the gold in Sarajevo after years of skating, going back to his first experience on the ice as a sickly 4-year-old in Bowling Green, Ohio.
Leaving home at age 13 to train with a French Olympic skater eight hours away, Hamilton later thought he would have to set aside his training because his parents could no longer support his expensive sport.
But a sponsorship came through, allowing him to train with a world-class coach in Chicago whose successes included Peggy Fleming and Dorothy Hamill. After another change in coaches, Hamilton made the Olympic team for the 1980 games in Lake Placid, N.Y.
He then went on to win four national and world skating titles, competing almost four years without a single defeat.
The long stretch of wins foreshadowed his 1984 medal in Sarajevo.
For the gold medalist, years of training not only prepared him to excel in skating but to understand life, including its spiritual dimensions.
“My long, winding journey to finding the right coach for me was not unlike my journey to finding God,” Hamilton writes.
“My faith in God — whom I like to call my Almighty Coach — was always lifting me to new heights I could never have reached on my own,” he relates. “But it took me awhile to figure that out.”
‘CHURCH OF SCOTT’
The skater describes a typical church experience growing up, his parents taking him to worship, Sunday school and church choir.
But as his interest in skating grew, his church commitment shrank.
“Pretty soon Sunday morning skating took the place of Sunday school,” Hamilton writes. “My parents, seeing how important skating was to me, let me blow off church.”
Though Hamilton maintained an openness to the spiritual side of life, he says, religion for him turned into the “Church of Scott,” meaning he could skate all he liked but thought primarily about his own wants and accomplishments.
The future gold medalist grew increasingly skeptical of traditional communities of faith. “I never lost my faith in God, but I did lose my faith in organized religion,” he writes.
Hamilton told The Christian Chronicle: “When I was looking for clues, answers, direction, I looked upon organized religion with a … perfectly adolescent opinion. I just felt that denominational religion was divisive, not inclusive. Going to church in an organized fashion … it rubbed me the wrong way.”
The reluctance to commit to church began to change when Hamilton met his future wife, Tracie Robinson, who grew up in Tennessee but was working in California and attending the University Church of Christ in Malibu.
“One day she shows up at church with this guy on her arm, who looks for all the world like Scott Hamilton,” minister Ken Durham recalled.
“We got to be special friends,” Durham said, adding that he and Hamilton began to study the Bible and talk about the meaning of belonging to a community of believers.
The Malibu minister performed the skater’s 2002 wedding. And about a year later —shortly after Hamilton was diagnosed with a brain tumor — Durham baptized Hamilton in the Pepperdine swim facilities, ironically one of the sites decades back of the Los Angeles summer Olympics.
A NEW PHASE
As father of a 1-year-old and a 5-year-old, Hamilton sees himself in a new phase of life.
Moving to Nashville where the kids are closer to grandparents, the skater and his family attend the Harpeth Hills Church of Christ in Brentwood, attracted in part by the children’s ministry.
“The me-time in my life is kind of taking a backseat,” Hamilton said. “I’m more interested right now in creating a foundation for my two sons and my wife to thrive.”
For the gold medalist, husband and dad, a successful life — on the ice or at home — is about “commitment and repetition” and “putting the time in,” he said.
Just like those figure eights his first coaches made him practice.
“Being happy isn’t … laughing and smiling 24/7,” he explained. “A lot of it, I think, is … taking ownership of your life and your day-to-day living.”