A Skating Life: My Story

by Dorothy Hamill

you ever wondered what it takes to become an Olympic champion? What
is the toll this feat exacts from a person? And after the big gold
medal win, then what? Sports memoirs are usually interesting
because the subjects possess a skill or talent that most of us
don't, and we are fascinated to read what it was like to hit that
winning home run or participate in that agonizing marathon. When
picking up a memoir by Dorothy Hamill, who launched the careers of
thousands of would-be skaters as well as creating a hairstyle
craze, readers want to know what it was like to win the gold medal
in figure skating in 1976, as well as all the hard work that led up
to and followed it.

Hamill candidly talks about the sacrifices her family made to
enable her to skate at the highest level. She also details openly
the ups and downs and the often icy relationship she shared with
both parents, especially her mother, who wasn't in the arena in
Innsbruck, Austria, that day in February 1976. Her mother remained
back at the hotel, an absence that Dorothy never could understand
but took as rejection. After the performance, when she told her
mother she had won, Hamill was stunned when her mother responded
with a laconic, "That's nice, Dorothy."

We're accustomed to seeing an athlete's meteoric rise. But what
happens after the competitions and medal ceremonies? Without their
rigorous and regimented training schedules, how can these seasoned
athletes acclimate to real life again? One of the most interesting
aspects of this memoir is Hamill's assessment of just that: "I
should have been on top of the world, but I was ill-equipped to
handle these new pressures. All I knew how to do was to get up
every morning at 4 a.m. to go to the rink and practice. My day had
always been planned around structured activity toward a specific
goal I cared about. Suddenly, that was gone, and my present life
was so hectic and without meaning."

Apart from her skating career, Hamill also talks about her two
difficult marriages. The first was to actor/aviator Dean Paul
Martin, son of singer Dean Martin, who would die in a plane crash a
few years after their divorce. Her second marriage produced a
child, her daughter Alex, but was fraught with deceit, placing her
in dire financial straits that ultimately had her declaring
bankruptcy. She also talks frankly about her lifelong struggle with
depression (a family affliction) and, more recently, osteoarthritis
--- the bane of every aging athlete's existence. The love of her
child and the desire to make a better home for her enabled Hamill
to weather the hard times. Apart from her young daughter, her one
abiding love was skating. Whenever she felt down or out, she could
always count on a little ice time to relieve whatever pain she was

Despite all the ups and downs and the years that go by, Hamill
still remains the little girl in the red skating dress, with that
signature haircut that captured the world's attention and hearts.
The book also serves as a good primer for the life of a young
skater, the physical and emotional involvement, and what the family
of an ambitious skater can expect. Both the athletic and the
personal sides add up to a pleasing and enlightening read.

Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on January 23, 2011

A Skating Life: My Story
by Dorothy Hamill

  • Publication Date: October 2, 2007
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • ISBN-10: 1401303285
  • ISBN-13: 9781401303280