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Pure gold: Olympian inspires at ‘Alzheimer & Parkinson’ event

A four-time world champion and 1984 Olympic gold medalist in men’s figure skating, Scott Hamilton hasn’t lost his edge since stepping off the ice. Hamilton charmed supporters of the Alzheimer and Parkinson Association of Indian River County with stories of resilience at the nonprofit’s Successful Aging Luncheon at the Vero Beach Museum of Art.

“We’ve often been asked, ‘Why isn’t this an Alzheimer’s lunch?’ ‘Why isn’t this a Parkinson’s lunch?’ We do bring in speakers, obviously, for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementia, movement disorders, because that is our bandwidth,” said Peggy Cunningham, executive director.

“If you have the right philosophy towards aging. If you have the right outlook on life, all of those challenges will become easier.”

Cunningham noted that the organization provides 42 free programs and services to families caring for loved ones with memory and movement disorders, giving them support and connection, and adding that supporters’ generosity makes that possible.

“There’s nothing like hearing someone walk out your door and say, ‘I’m not alone.’

Because it’s the journey, and we’re all taking it together,” said Cunningham.
Introducing Hamilton, she said his motto is, ‘The only disability in life is a bad attitude.’

She added that Hamilton “is a constant reminder that with faith, fortitude and determination, anything is possible. Now that sounds like a formula for successful aging.”

Adopted as an infant, Hamilton said he spent much of his youth in and out of hospitals as medical professionals tried to diagnose the mysterious childhood disease that stunted his growth.

He recalled having to swallow weighted string, being put in a strait jacket, and being taunted by other children for having a tube taped to his face. He did it always with a sense of humor, testament to his outlook on life.

Hamilton said when the family physician suggested he enroll in an ice-skating program at the new facility at Bowling Green State University, it was advice that changed his life.

“Pretty soon I was skating as well as the well kids and pretty soon, as well as the best athletes in my grade. Self-esteem is the most powerful agent on the planet. If you feel good about yourself, that gives everyone else permission to feel good about you. It was the first time I actually felt good about me,” said Hamilton.

After his mother died from cancer, Hamilton said he decided, “I can skate for her. I can try to become the person that she always dreamed I could be.”

It was that devotion to her memory, he said, that helped him take gold in the Olympics.

After the Olympics, Hamilton toured with the Ice Capades and Stars on Ice and was a skating commentator for many years. However, a visit to the emergency room revealed that he had a mass.

“No one’s ever used the word mass in a description of me before,” joked Hamilton, who opted to take it in stride, as his mother had. “I realized if I took ownership of this thing, I could win this battle because it’s a battle I felt I was meant to win.”

Shortly after marrying and the birth of their first child – a miracle, given Hamilton’s illness – they discovered Hamilton had a pituitary brain tumor.

“I had been born with a brain tumor. For all those years that I skated, it stopped doing its mischief until I stopped skating,” shared Hamilton. After radiation treatment, their second son was born four years later, another miracle.

“We’re here today to raise money to help people that truly need our help and cannot help themselves. It’s in that adventure of my collection of threatening illness that I realized that it’s all about the ‘getting up,’” said Hamilton, commenting that he has fallen on the ice too many times to count.

“It’s the ‘getting up.’ That’s where we learn. That’s where we grow. That’s where we understand who we are and what we’re capable of. No matter what the challenge is, it’s in the response. It’s how you respond. Good or bad,” he said.

“Our bodies are vulnerable and susceptible to so many countless things. In many respects equally resilient but ultimately temporary.”

He suggests that people will be more fulfilled if they “live joyfully, productively, generously and in service of others. We get up. We face the next thing, and we just keep going. Life is precious, and we have to protect it with everything we have. We just serve and live and give, and serve and live and give and repeat, because that’s where the joy is.”

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Photos by Joshua Kodis

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