Horatio Alger couldn’t have scripted it any better.
On February 13, 1980, with a stiff cold breeze blowing off Lake Placid’s Whiteface Mountain, twenty-one-year-old figure skater Scott Hamilton slowly led his team into the snow-covered horse show grounds for the opening ceremony of the 13th Winter Olympic games.
Trumpets blared. Drums rolled. The colors of eighty countries circled the arena. Elected by his teammates to carry the American flag, the 5’3” Ohio native carefully steadied the stars and stripes in the leather harness strapped across his chest.
“If I start to fly away, will somebody please grab me?” he shouted, half-jokingly, to no one in particular.
“As we began the march through the stadium gates, my hat was practically covering my eyes,” he remembered. “Not a good thing for the guy leading the hundred member American team.”
The next day, the Washington Post described him as an “Olympic nobody – just a fellow who finished a respectable third in the U.S. Olympic trials in men’s singles.”
Of course, that “Olympic nobody” would eventually go on to become a highly accomplished and decorated “Olympic somebody” who took home a gold medal in 1984 and went on to win, among other honors, four consecutive U.S. and World Championships.
The story behind Scott Hamilton’s selection to carry the flag in 1980 and his inspirational career as an athlete, broadcaster, husband, father, and cancer awareness activist is a colorful combination of Providence and persistence culminating in both tragedy and triumph.
Married to Tracie and father of four, two of whom were adopted from Haiti, Scott is 63 years-old now. He runs the Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation, an organization dedicated to the research, care and cure of cancer.
Scott, a three-time cancer survivor himself, enjoys a life deeply rooted in an abiding faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, considering the way Scott has managed the various tribulations that have beset him, here are five things he can teach us about the unpredictable twists and turns of life:
- Adversity is often opportunity in disguise.
When Scott was a toddler, his parents became alarmed when he failed to grow at a normal rate. He saw numerous specialists and experimented with various diets, to no avail. It wasn’t until after he retired from skating that he learned his growth had been stunted by a benign tumor on his pituitary gland. He would later posit that had he grown to a normal size, he never would have succeeded as a professional skater.
The Lord often uses our infirmities for His larger purposes. Rather than only lamenting our lot, it is good to ask how He might want us to use our weaknesses to glorify Him.
- Hardship changes us – it never keeps us the same.
It was during one of Scott’s hospitalizations that he encountered a nurse who challenged him to speak with God like a son to his father. This spiritual insight was transformational in Scott’s life and provided him with the strength to carry on.
The great challenge is to not grow bitter or compare ourselves to someone else when troubles come. Like exercise is to a muscle, so are trials to the believer.
- Every day is a gift.
You see life differently when faced with the very real prospect of premature death. Scott has learned to not take any time for granted. “God doesn’t owe me a day,” he told his wife, Tracie.
Do you wake up and see the time before you as a blessing or a burden? Life is brief. “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow,” wrote James. “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (4:14).
- We can’t choose our condition, but we can choose our attitude.
After receiving the difficult diagnosis earlier this year, Scott told his wife, “I choose to truly — in everything that we do — celebrate life.” He would later say, “The only true disability in life is a bad attitude.”
Isn’t that a remarkable and faith-filled response to difficulty? “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice,” wrote the apostle Paul. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
- All is well.
Not every story this side of eternity has a happy ending. And according to Scott, while sad, that’s ultimately okay. “I’m good,” he said. “Whatever’s next is next.” To be sure, the former skater is not employing a cavalier, apathetic approach to reality. Nor is he dismissing the difficulties of illness. Instead, he’s affirming his confidence in His Heavenly father’s unfailing love.
“God is there to guide you through the tough spots,” reflected Scott. “Every time I’ve gotten knocked down, I’ve been able to get up. Skating teaches you how to get up, because you fall down a lot. I would urge anyone to weather the storm, because on the other side of it will be something great.”
One man. Three brain tumors. Five profound lessons.