Her image could hardly have been better: Athletic. A knockout. All-American. So accomplished and so wholesome that Disneyland hired her for speaking engagements, the Big Ten college athletic conference named an award after her and the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association made her their pitchwoman.
Yet something troubled Suzy Favor Hamilton. The former track star out of Wisconsin, whose speed and talent took her to seven national championships and three Olympics, ultimately dealt with her demons by stealing away to live a life as a highly paid prostitute.
An “escape,” she called it, that was really a way of masking an American Dream coming unhinged — a real-life tragedy that undercut the myth that success, wealth and fame is a surefire path to happiness.
“I do not expect people to understand,” Favor Hamilton said in a frenzied burst of tweets after details about her secret life became public on Thursday in a report on The Smoking Gun Web site. “But the reasons for doing this made sense to me at the time and were very much related to depression.”
Stanley Teitelbaum, a psychologist who wrote the book Athletes Who Indulge Their Dark Side, said it is not so difficult to understand. After retiring, and spending most of her life trying to live up to a certain ideal and getting her highs from the adrenaline rush of elite, competitive sports, day-to-day life in the normal world can seem boring.
“You’ve got to think of an emotional outlet, maybe in her case, a nonconventional outlet, a way of getting high by somehow being a bad girl in contrast to her image of an upstanding, Olympic athlete,” Teitelbaum said.
In an interview earlier this year with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Favor Hamilton said she dealt with anxiety, an eating disorder and struggled with postpartum depression after the birth of her daughter, Kylie, now 7. However, she told the newspaper, “I feel better than I’ve ever felt.”
At the time of the interview, it turned out, she was doubling as “Kelly Lundy,” a US$600-an-hour call girl for an escort service based in Las Vegas.
Apparently, it was not for the money. In the Journal Sentinel profile, Favor Hamilton said she gave upward of 60 motivational speeches each year and ran a successful realty firm, in addition to doing appearances for Disney and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series. The Smoking Gun reported that a check through public records showed she lived in a US$600,000 house in the Madison suburb of Shorewood Hills and that neither she nor her husband, Mark Hamilton, had any outward signs of financial difficulties.
On Friday, there was no answer at the front door of her house — a sizeable, split-level home at the end of a cul de sac where a hurdle emblazoned with the word “Wisconsin” sat, snow covered, alongside the driveway.
A neighbor, Bob Lynch, said he used to see Favor Hamilton, her husband and daughter walking around the neighborhood and “they looked like a solid, little family.”
“She’s really successful,” Lynch said. “Madison’s a small town that way. If you were a sports hero at the university, you could do well in business.”
In the wake of the news, Disney canceled an upcoming appearance by Favor Hamilton, the Orange County Register reported. The Big Ten conference, which hands out the Suzy Favor Athlete of the Year Award to honor an athlete who won 23 conference and nine National Collegiate Athletic Association titles, had no comment on Friday. A spokesman for the University of Wisconsin athletic department also declined comment.