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Keeping Scott Hamilton on ice

Source: The Gazette (Montreal)
Date: April 14, 2000
Author: Paul Delean

Copyright 2000 Southam Inc.

Scott Hamilton once described the life expectancy of a male figure- skater in ice shows as ''not much longer than that of the mate of a black widow spider.''

He's living proof that is no longer true.

Nineteen years after winning his first U.S. championship, 16 years after his gold-medal performance at the winter Olympics in Sarajevo, 14 years after helping launch the Stars on Ice touring show and three years after being diagnosed with testicular cancer, the 41-year-old American remains a marquee performer.

He'll be part of the Stars on Ice cast for the Canadian tour, which comes to the Molson Centre Wednesday.

Hamilton was supposed to skate in Montreal during the 1997 tour, but he had to leave the company after tests revealed testicular cancer and a tumour. A physical therapist with the show had detected the mass in his abdomen; he'd been suffering stomach pains he thought might be the start of an ulcer.

The cancer diagnosis was doubly difficult for someone who'd watched his mother die of breast cancer in 1977.

During her ordeal, ''she showed me how to reach for something extra when the logical decision is to give up,'' Hamilton wrote in his autobiography, Landing It: My Life On and Off the Ice.

Hamilton said he was pondering retirement around the time he was found to have cancer. The discovery changed his thinking completely. To prove he'd beaten the disease, he had to make it all the way back to skating's top level.

''When I was sick, it was important for me to get back,'' the native of Bowling Green, Ohio, said in a recent telephone interview from Richmond, Va. ''It was kind of an odd turn, at a time when I was pulling back, trying to go out gracefully.''

During his convalescence, he received an estimated 60,000 cards and letters, including one from Nancy Reagan. They're stored in his garage.

Just five months after surgery and the start of his chemotherapy, he was back on blades. And he rejoined the Stars on Ice tour that winter.

Although he's since become an active fundraiser for cancer programs and research, Hamilton said he no longer uses the disease for professional motivation.

He actually tries to blot it out when he skates.

''It's hard for me to skate with the survivor mentality. I've got to put that period of my life in its proper place. If I skate with other things on my mind, I might not be doing the best work and what people want to see.

''If I remember all I've been through, the chemotherapy and surgery and all that, it may not help me. It may be a crutch.''

As emotionally fulfilling as it was to come back, tour skating remains hard work, and Hamilton sounded on the phone like someone seriously considering giving it up.

''I'm leaning that way (retirement),'' he said. ''I've never leaned before.''

There's a physical price to pay to still be skating at age 41, and Hamilton is paying it. His right ankle, acting up since he rushed to rejoin Stars on Ice after a month as a broadcast commentator at the Nagano Olympics in 1998, remains a daily bother.

''Actually, everything hurts pretty much all the time. It's not because of the cancer, but because I've been out there so long. Time and repetition and pounding and being kind of career-directed just takes its toll,'' he said.

''I'm skating as well as I can and I'm pretty happy with that, but I'm getting through the shows mostly on determination. I still want to have a family, kick back, and that's hard to do when you're on the road more than half the year.''

Still, leaving won't be easy. Hamilton was instrumental in conceiving figure-skating's premier skating show, which innovated by emphasizing athletics rather than ''kiddie acts, gimmicks and show girls.'' And he's been one of its main attractions since the start.

In his book, Landing It: My Life on and off the Ice, Hamilton writes, ''I hope my legacy is what I have been able to create in the way of opportunities for future generations of skaters.'' If he has any doubts, he need only look across the ice surface at Stars on Ice co-stars Tara Lipinski, 17, Lu Chen, 23, and Shae- Lynn Bourne, 24.

- Chrysler Stars on Ice, featuring Scott Hamilton, Kurt Browning, Tara Lipinski and others, will be presented Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Molson Centre. Tickets cost $33 to $60 and are available at Admission outlets and the Molson Centre box office (514) 989-2841.