Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton inspired the audience gathered Friday evening, Dec. 7, 2018, for Freed-Hardeman University’s annual benefit dinner. His life story, told in engaging fashion, caused many to describe his speech as “the best ever.”
The event, which raises funds for scholarships to FHU, was successful in that regard as well. For the 19th consecutive year, the benefit dinner grossed more than $1 million. This year’s dinner brought in more than $1,245,000.
Hamilton, who described himself as “a recovering figure skater,” recounted his rise from his birth as “an unwanted child to an unwed mother” to Olympic glory. He was adopted into a loving family when he was six weeks old.
“I was always the runt of the litter,” Hamilton said. He spent four years of his childhood going to doctors who were trying to figure out why he wasn’t growing. They were unable to diagnose the problem. In an attempt to improve his self-esteem, his mother put him on the skating rink. When he was 18 and about to be forced to give up skating because his family could no longer afford it, a benefactor saw him and agreed to be his sponsor. But, with that good news came great loss. His mother who had been “everything” to Hamilton died from cancer. He made a decision then to dedicate every day of his life to her.
The last time his mother saw him skate competitively, he finished last. In 1984 he triumphed at Sarajevo, winning an Olympic gold medal. He then turned professional and spent 11 years with Stars on Ice.
But his life was not to be without challenge. Twenty years to the day after his mother had died, Hamilton was diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer. Remembering how his mother had fought and endured chemotherapy gave him the will to fight also. “She had showed me how to get through chemotherapy,” he said. He “got through” it, as well as “a 38-staple surgery.” He has since been diagnosed with a pituitary brain tumor.
“For so long, I felt cursed,” Hamilton said. “Then when I started remembering all the things I had survived, I realized I wasn’t cursed at all. Setbacks are just forks in the road. Every single time I needed somebody, they were there.” He cited his adoption when he needed parents, the sponsor when he needed funds to continue skating, and a cure when he faced cancer.
“We can’t do this alone,” he said. “We can’t fly until we embrace one another…we’re all in this together.”
Hamilton’s address was preceded by a variety of musical numbers performed by Freed-Hardeman students and alumni, as well as members of the community. Two students who have benefitted from scholarships, Carrie Hatchel, Dresden, Tennessee, and Reed Vega, Montgomery, Alabama, thanked attendees for their generosity. Student Government Association president Samantha McMillan presented Hamilton with a Bible signed by FHU students.
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