Athletes, Authors

Suzy Favor Hamilton

July 28, 2016
Suzy Favor Hamilton

Like many great athletes, Suzy knew what she wanted to do with her life early on. She began running when she was just nine years old, and soon found recognition for her hard work. In high school, she won three National Junior titles; an achievement recognized in 2010 with her induction into the US National High School Sports Hall of Fame. Further titles and awards came pouring in throughout her college years, where Suzy won a record nine NCAA Titles and 32 Big-Ten Championships while attending the University of Wisconsin. She won the Honda Cup and Babe Zaharias Awards for Top Female Collegiate Athlete in the country and was named by the Big-Ten Network as the top female athlete in conference history.

Suzy competed in the Barcelona, Atlanta, and Sydney Olympic Games and, as a professional, won seven USA National titles, set two American Records, and in 2000, was named USA Track & Field’s Female Distance Runner of the Year.

After a string of high-profile successes and sponsorships, Suzy began the transition into her life post-running. She embarked on a career in real estate in her home state of Wisconsin, working alongside her husband to build a successful business.

Soon, however, she found herself buried under feelings of overwhelming inadequacy and self-doubt. She sought help and was diagnosed with depression. Her treatment involved medication that seemed to work almost too well for its own good. Spurred by this, she began to overcompensate for experiences she felt she had missed out on due to running from an early age. This culminated in her brief time as an escort in 2011 and 2012. She was discovered operating under the pseudonym Kelly Lundy by a journalist writing for The Smoking Gun. This proved a major turning point in Suzy’s life, prompting her to reassess what had led her down this path.

At the heart of it all lay a misdiagnosis of her condition. Suzy found out that she was actually living with bipolar disorder; her prescribed antidepressants were exacerbating her risk-taking, thrill-seeking behavior. Armed with this information, Suzy has since been able to move forward with her life and transform it into a source of inspiration and comfort for others. She is an active, positive force on social media and seeks to combat the stigma surrounding mental illness through education and awareness. These days, she lives in California with her college sweetheart husband and their young daughter. In 2015, she published a memoir, Fast Girl, that has since become a New York Times best-selling book.

To learn more about Suzy and her current projects, visit her at suzyfavorhamilton.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Suzy Favor HamiltonHow did you initially become interested in running?

Pretty much discovered it on my own, running through the woods close to my house. I loved the way it made me feel, and it came so naturally. I’ll never forget that initial pure joy of running.

At what point did you realize that you could potentially be very successful as a runner?

High School. No idea I would become as successful as I did, but it was here I realized I was winning a lot, and could be really good at this.

In 2000, you were the fastest woman in the world in the 1500m event. What’s it like to know that you’re the best in the world at something?

Pretty fantastic. You run a time like that and you’re on top of the world. I remember basking in the glow for a bit, but then realizing, I had to win in Sydney. But looking back on it now, it’s pretty sweet to be able to say that for one season, I was the fastest woman in the world in my event.

What was the happiest or proudest moment of your running career?

I’d have to say it was when I qualified for my first Olympic Team.

Do you recall where you were when you first learned of the Smoking Gun story exposing your secret life as an escort?

I do. I was at a Starbucks ordering tea.

What were you feeling in that moment?

I know this makes no sense, but I felt nothing.

What sort of reaction did you get from friends and family members when they learned of your job as an escort and the bipolar disorder that led you to that point?

Some abandoned me. Most just didn’t know what to say. The typical reaction was the look of concern, but a concerted attempt to talk about anything but the elephant in the room.

How did you come up with the pseudonym “Kelly Lundy”?

No real elaborate story. The agency told me I needed to come up with a stage name. I browsed the names of the other girls that were with the agency, and for whatever reason, the name Kelly came to me. There’s a lot during that time I can’t really explain. It just sounds like a good name at the moment. I always went by just “Kelly”. The Smoking Gun guy thought I went by “Kelly Lundy” based on an email from the client who outed me.

Was the writing of Fast Girl a cathartic experience for you?

It was extremely difficult to write the book. I was fortunate to have the assistance of a fantastic ghostwriter, but believe me. At times I wanted to back out of everything. It triggered me often and as a consequence, I was not always in a good place when going through the process. I can say, however, I’m glad I did it, and I’m happy with the final product. It’s much easier, and rather cathartic to speak about my past now and I do so through speaking engagements, interviews, etc.

In what ways do you hope to inspire others who are suffering with bipolar disorder?

My goal is to show that one can hit rock bottom, can feel like life is not at all worth living, can feel totally worthless, and rise when all is said and done. That while bipolar disorder can quite frankly be pretty debilitating and downright scary, it can be managed and one can lead a good and productive life.

Do you still watch and/or pay attention to the Summer Olympics?

I plan on it. Closer to my active running career, it was difficult for me to watch. I was somewhat disenchanted with the sport (drugs, politics) and admittedly, a bit bitter. Today, I don’t know. I let that go somewhere along the road. I’m really looking forward to watching the games, mostly athletics of course. I have several friends competing and will be cheering hard for them.

If you were still competing, would the stories of security issues and health concerns make you think twice about traveling to this year’s Olympics in Rio de Janiero?

It’s funny. A friend asked me this just the other day. When I was competing, I was so single minded. Everything was running, everything was pointed towards that Olympic gold medal. I have no doubt I would have gone without hesitation. Today, with greater perspective, a daughter, etc. I’m not so sure. I would need to really do my homework and put thought into it. I would need assurances that the risk was next to nothing.

Suzy Favor Hamilton

Buy Fast Girl

Fast Girl

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What’s the best meal you’ve had recently?

That’s a tough one. I’ll have to give my husband credit on this one. He slow cooked a brisket not long ago that was out of this world.

Are you superstitious?

Not really.

Were you superstitious during your running career?

No.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in your life?

Shame is a wasted emotion that only holds back recovery. Let it go and move forward.

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