Hamill keeps on smiling

The Baltimore Sun

From the cover It seems as if we've known her forever: the Olympic gold medal, the wedge haircut, the sweet smile telegraphing a message that life couldn't be better for Dorothy Hamill.

But now, at 51, this most private of champions has decided to let us into her life just a little bit with a new autobiography, A Skating Life: My Story.

And we learn that being the star girls adored and boys wanted to date wasn't as rosy as her complexion. An alcoholic father. A distant mother. Two divorces. Bankruptcy. Depression. The loss of the love of her life.

What took you so long to tell us, Dorothy?

Hamill laughs. "I'm in a good place now," she says. "I'm in a place in my life where it's OK to be honest and open."

And why wouldn't things be good? Hamill can still slip into the pink dress she wore Feb. 13, 1976, when at 19, she came up gold, the unanimous choice of Olympic judges.

"It's in my attic," she says, smiling. "It still fits. It doesn't look very nice, but it still fits."

The beribboned medal has another life, too, as part of an exhibit, "Olympic Gold," at The Forbes Galleries in New York City that opened this week and runs through the end of the year.

The autobiography came about as daughter Alex prepared for her final year of high school and readied for college. Choosing to stay home in Baltimore rather than tour, Hamill says she first saw the book as "cathartic and interesting to do" but came to discover it was as hard as getting ready for a national ice show.

"There's a lot of things that I'd love to have changed. ... A year and a half, two years is not enough time to write," she says. "It was trying."

Longtime friend Dean Moye, a production manager for Cirque du Soleil, says the book "touches on all the chapters of her life. I think as a public person, she feels she owes it to the public to lay it all out there."

Hamill seems relieved that all the things she kept bottled up are out now. She will do a short book tour beginning at 4 p.m. today with a reading at the Baltimore Book Festival with stops in New York, Minneapolis and St. Louis. Then, Hamill will lace up her skates and train for Broadway on Ice, a 14-stop tour that includes fellow Olympians Brian Boitano, Nancy Kerrigan, Rudy Galindo and Oksana Baiul.

"I still love it. I just get such joy. The wind in my face. The music," she says of skating. "I can't do much anymore, but I still love it."

More complicated have been her relationships with others, beginning with her mother, who went to the Innsbruck Olympics but did not attend the winning performance or see her daughter atop the podium, and responded later with, "That's nice."

Hamill writes: "Here was the woman most closely responsible for my success, who had watched me at almost every practice, overseen every decision, and had not only changed her life for me but altered her entire being to help me be the best skater I could. Her years of unflinching devotion to my goal were finally fulfilled, yet she could not express happiness for me. Or herself."

Hamill says her openness with Alex was "a conscious decision ... because with Alex and I, it's just the two of us ... and we kind of stick together. I just wanted her to know that she could tell me anything she was feeling or thinking. We have a very nice relationship. I've been lucky."

Her first marriage to Dean Paul Martin, son of singer Dean Martin, ended in divorce after two years. A pilot in the Air National Guard, he later was killed in a training flight, and Hamill writes, "it is a chapter of my life I am unable to close."

"Dean Paul was absolutely the love of my life," Hamill says now. "But we were both so young and in different places."

On the rebound, Hamill married Kenneth Forsythe, a sports medicine doctor and former member of the Canadian ski team. Although that marriage produced Alex, it crumbled when a National Enquirer reporter brought her photos of her husband embracing one of their employees and told her that he was having an affair with another woman, "a younger Dorothy Hamill."

Attempts to reach Forsythe at his California practice were unsuccessful.

After a bitter custody battle for Alex, Hamill and Forsythe divorced in 1995. A year later, Hamill was forced to file for bankruptcy.

The depression that had dogged her since the Olympics swallowed her whole. Determined to be a good mother, Hamill fought back with medication and the anchor in her life, skating.

"At times, I feel overwhelmed and my depression leads me into darkness," she writes. "I still have suicidal thoughts when I'm at my lowest, but I know how to take action to correct my inherent chemical imbalances."

She was surprised to find that her mother was coping with depression as well. The two reconciled at a recent family reunion, where Hamill thanked her mother again for all of her sacrifices and gave her a diamond-studded snowflake pendant.

Hamill says she will soon reach a point where she will be too old to perform.

"I'd like to find something meaningful to do for the next part of my life," she says. "I'm still trying to figure that out. I love kids. I'd love to work with kids."

Having lived on both coasts and traveled the world, Hamill settled in Baltimore a decade ago and just bought a new house.

"It feels very much like home," she says. "I have the best friends in the world here. It's real; it's not who you know."

Now, with Alex enrolled in college, Hamill finds herself an empty nester. Will she find another life partner?

"I sure hope so, I sure hope so," she says, wistfully. "That's the only thing in this whole, crazy world that I never talked about as a kid. I just naturally assumed that in the course of one's life that you met a partner and shared everything. I never dreamed I'd be divorced twice and be 51 years old and - no partner. I've kind of learned to accept that if it happens, great, and if it doesn't, that's OK, too. Coming to terms with that was tough."

And that sweet smile proclaiming "life is good?" These days, Hamill says, it's for real.

"I feel really blessed. I feel really lucky. Yes, I've had ups and downs, but I have my health and I have a great life, and I think it takes the downs to appreciate the ups," she says. "And I'm just so lucky that skating has always been there for me."


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