Although they now have a good relationship, Dorothy struggled to understand her mother’s behavior when she was growing up. As an adult, seeking to treat her own depression, Dorothy learned that the condition runs in her family and that her mother experienced bouts of depression all through Dorothy’s youth – yet she still devoted herself to helping Dorothy do what she loved: skate. Only once was her mother not there, but it was one of the most important times in Dorothy’s life. Here, we excerpt new Dorothy Hamill book A Skating Life.
I had two double Axels in my [Olympic] long program and it was essential for me to land both in order to have a chance of winning…. I went for [the second one] and landed it. I was so excited that I didn’t even attempt the double toe loop. Next came my footwork, and then, in the last 30 seconds, after I did my Russian split, I almost lost my balance. No one seemed to notice. I finished, and the applause was deafening.
I skated off the ice into my father’s arms. I squinted to try to see my marks because I didn’t wear my glasses. What a relief to be finished. Now it was out of my hands. I looked for Mom in the stands, but that was fruitless because of my poor eyesight. I just assumed she was there…
[Dorothy’s father had already done the math and knew she’d won the gold medal. Her excitement mounting, Dorothy waited for the official announcement to be sure.]
It was all happening so quickly. I found out that I won when the live audience learned, as the medals were announced.
Immediately after our national anthem was played and I was surrounded by well-wishers, I looked around again for Mom.
“Where’s Mom?” I asked Dad.
“She’s back at the hotel,” he hesitantly answered.
I remembered the last thing she had said to me: “I’ll see you later.” It was then that I realized she had not come to see me skate. She had been at the hotel the whole time.
I still try to rationalize [her behavior]. Here we are 30 years later, and afraid of what she might answer, I still haven’t had the guts to ask her why she didn’t come to the arena that day. At the time, I felt she didn’t want me to win, that she didn’t believe in me, and that she really didn’t care! . . . Truthfully, I think she was just exhausted. It was a Herculean task to fight through the world of figure skating and help me excel in it. She had sacrificed herself for my dream. [But] I was so disappointed Mom wasn’t there because I wanted her to share the experience, whether I won or not. She, more than anyone, knew what it had taken. [My Olympic performance] was the culmination of my hard work and the love, sacrifice, tenacity and perseverance of so many people since I had first stepped on the ice at 8 years old. Yes, I wanted my mom to be there.
Excerpted with permission from A Skating Life (Hyperion), copyight 2007 by Dorothy Hamill.