Scott Hamilton flashes an almost constant smile as he talks about his dream of returning to the ice and dazzling fans who thought they'd seen the last of him.
"I started skating again a little last year for fitness," says the 1984 Olympic champion and former ice showman. "I'd love to skate again professionally."
Hamilton, who retired from the rink in 2001 after his public battles with testicular cancer and a brain tumor, knows a comeback is no sure thing. "When I'm on the ice, I feel like, 'Whoa! I've got a long way to go.'"
His zest for life, despite health woes haunting almost all of his 50 years, amazes even those who know him best.
"He's my angel," says wife Tracie. "I feel truly blessed every single day I have with him."
"He's such an 'up!' individual," says actor William Shatner, a longtime friend. "So many people would have been driven into the ground by what has happened to Scotty. It's the indomitable will of the Olympic champion."
"You are kind of not willing to believe it at first that anyone is that sweet and that positive," says Dr. Ken Durham, senior minister at the University Church of Christ on the campus of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. Durham baptized Hamilton and officiated at his wedding to Tracie in 2002.
During Hamilton's darkest times, says Durham, "I saw him move to a more prayerful, trustful relationship with God."
Guided by an inner voice
Hamilton's faith is reinforced as he hears an inner voice luring him back to center ice. "We all have that person on either shoulder whispering in our ear, telling us what to do," he says. "And I've learned to act on it. Instead of use it passively as 'recommendations,' I've looked on it as 'This is what I have to do.'''
That same voice led him to contentment as a family man, television commentator, inspir-ational speaker and author.
The Great Eight, published this year, lays out his approach to life. Subtitled "How to Be Happy (Even When You Have Every Reason to be Miserable)," the book (co-written with Ken Baker, who, like Hamilton, survived a brain tumor) is a how-to guide highlighting eight action steps for staring down life's challenges.
"It is sort of a pep talk to get you to make small changes in your life and allow them to become big changes. It is a guide to optimism," says Hamilton. "It's a happy book."
It's also an unflinching look at his own challenges. Hamilton was born in Bowling Green, Ohio, and adopted at the age of 6 weeks. A sickly child, he required feeding through a tube in his nose. A vigorous skater as a youngster, he went on to win four consecutive U.S. figure skating championships (1981-1984) and the sport's 1984 Olympic gold medal. After the Olympics, he skated professionally and co-founded Stars on Ice, where his backflips became an audience-wowing trademark.
Optimism and faith
Finding love and having children are key elements in Hamilton's journey of optimism and faith. "The fact I was able to have a child at all was miraculous," he says, alluding to the fertility issues he faced after having a testicle removed. "Aidan was born nine months and two days after Tracie and I were married, so it was in the plan the whole time."
Tracie agrees. "It was a gift straight from God: Our first try at having a baby, we were able to do it."
Aidan's arrival five years ago hastened the skater's decision to retire. "I was on the road skating nowhere near my ability level, my son was 6 months old, and I'd rather be home with him. The great shows didn't feel as good as the bad shows felt bad.''
He put his skates away to help tend his firstborn. "I was there for his first steps," he says. "I was there for his first words. How many dads see their children as much as their mothers see them?"
The couple's dreams for a second child were dimmed when Hamilton's doctors diagnosed his pituitary brain tumor. The treatment-"26 zaps of radiation," says Hamilton, directed at 201 points in his brain-shrank the tumor from 2.5 centimeters to 5 millimeters, but also zapped the surrounding area, ceasing hormone production.
After giving himself injections for two years "to inspire testosterone production," Hamilton and his wife had almost given up. Then, while he was waiting at one of his doctors' offices, Tracie sent him a cell phone image of a positive home-pregnancy test. "Oh man, it was so miraculous, so beautiful," says Hamilton, his voice cracking.
A story of inspiration
Son Maxx's arrival last year is just one of the miracles Hamilton discusses in his attempts to inspire others.
One who was inspired by his stories is co-writer Baker, a Los Angeles-based entertainment journalist who heard Hamilton speak to a gathering of those who, like himself, suffered from pituitary tumors.
"Here's a guy who really does have every reason to be miserable, but he is the happiest person I've ever met," says Baker. "As a journalist, I thought 'Wow! What an amazing message and story that I would be able to help tell.'" After initial hesitation by Hamilton, the two began the lengthy phone conversations that led to his new book.
Hamilton's dedication to his family sparked a move from California to Tennessee three years ago. Tracie is from Jackson, Tenn., a couple of hours from the Hamiltons' home in Franklin, Tenn.
In the serene environment of middle Tennessee, far from the mad rush of Los Angeles, Hamilton began listening to those whispers about a comeback. "I don't do anything much better than skate," he reasons.
Most days he can be found at a suburban rink, often teaching Aidan how to play hockey. "It brings me great joy that I can skate and that I can help him learn," he says, "and I can be a participant in something he wants to learn in his childhood."
Other times, though, Hamilton's on the ice alone-with that whisper telling him to entertain his fans once more. "I'm not going to be 25 years old again," he says. "I won't be doing the flips.
"But I want to go out there and be healthier, maybe stand in that light one more time. It seems like that's where the whisper is taking me now."
Writer Tim Ghianni lives in Nashville, Tenn.