By BRIAN D’AMBROSIO
Dare to be happy as a child. Find your passion.
These are Suzy Favor-Hamilton’s much loved subjects of discussion. Passion has always come relatively trouble-free for Favor-Hamilton – one of the most decorated athletic competitors in the United States.
A seven-time US National Champion, three-time Olympic contender, and winner of nine NCAA Titles, her slim, taut physique once adorned nationwide magazine covers and she had enjoyed never-ending fan support.
But being happy was an effort, a demand. In fact, it took her years to discover the secret of happiness. While she publicly maintained her intense focus and chipper deportment, even following a family heartbreak in 1999 when brother Dan committed suicide at age 37, inside she was fighting a serious conflict with depression.
Disaster hit its climax for Favor-Hamilton at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. She collapsed on the track of the 1500-meter race, an event she was predicted to perform well at. The root of the breakdown was the subject of eager speculation. Her illness became so dire at one point, that she even contemplated killing herself.
Suzy’s exercise concealed her depression and buried the underlying issues. At times she used exercise as an obsessive mode to dismiss or turn her back on what was really troubling her. She eventually sought corrective help and has vastly improved on medication. Ultimately, she learned that in order to make yourself happy you have to first love yourself.
“Being happy is a choice,” said Favor-Hamilton, 45. “We are so often the cause of our own suffering.” Now a popular motivational speaker, she explores the links between the words happiness and passion.
“I ask people often what their passion is,” continued Favor-Hamilton. “What’s interesting is that many people can’t answer that simple question. They have no answer. ‘What makes you excited about life?’ I ask. Passion takes soul-searching and some looking back to childhood.”
Passion, said Favor-Hamilton, is the ultimate reality of our being. It is both love and joy.
“Look deeper if you can’t find your passion,” said Favor-Hamilton. “To get to the bottom of depression, or hopelessness, or other issues, it takes examination from the outside, and confronting painful areas of life. We should talk about it, release it, and get rid of it, and not ignore it.”
Favor-Hamilton was born and raised in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. At college at the University of Wisconsin, she first established a reputation as one of the nation’s foremost middle-distance runners. Following graduation, Favor-Hamilton competed three times for the U.S. in the Olympic Games – 1992, 1996, and 2000 – and seven times in the U.S. National Championships. She once owned the U.S. record for the 1000-meter and the U.S. indoor record for the 800-meter.
Favor-Hamilton remains the only American woman to have the top seasonal 1500-meter time in the world (in 2000, she placed first in the world based on time, at 3:57.40.) and one of only two American women to have finished the 1,500-meter in less than four minutes.
After Favor-Hamilton ended her professional athletic career she was recruited by the marketing department for the UW Badgers to use her celebrity to promote collegiate athletics. Eight months later, she realized that many people were interested in the details of her own life story, and the exciting world of public speaking took root.
Motivational speaking has lifted Favor-Hamilton to the summit of happiness. Happiness constantly re-creates her. Happiness, she explains to audiences, is ordinary, it is human, and it is for everyone. Nonetheless, her quest for happiness hasn’t been without the help of strong perverseness of the mind.
“Growing up in the world of sports, you see the projected false image,” said Favor-Hamilton. “But I knew how unhappy, spoiled, and mean some athletes were. Personally, I thought the gold medal would make the difference, somehow change the world. I am realizing that not having the medal opened doors in a healthier, better way. It has brought me honesty.”
The sunlight of happiness really is there in her eyes – she has not created it; she learnt that she could only let it in. Positivity has led her to transcendence. And she preaches that maintaining a negative attitude only prevents great accomplishments from coming.
“I try to only let in positive people and thoughts,” said Favor-Hamilton. “I have no control over the negative behaviors of others. What’s most important, I learned through my therapy how to change myself. That’s the greatest gift I can give my [seven-year-old] daughter [Kylie].”
Favor-Hamilton, currently one of Madison, Wisconsin’s most successful realtors at Favor Hamilton Realty Group of First Weber, is open about her experiences, unguarded about her personal struggles, challenges, and faults. She hopes that somehow her suffering may lessen the suffering of others.
Ordinary happiness has brought Favor-Hamilton closer to the natural path of gratefulness. Life, she has proven, can offer new opportunities – provided you are willing to welcome them.
“I try to live life passionately for [my brother] Dan,” said Favor-Hamilton. “I wish I could have given him more love and support when he was here. But I can’t. But I can fight against the stigmas of depression and suicide, fight against those fears.”
Favor-Hamilton’s happiness not only nourishes a feeling of gratitude toward life but serves as a very important expression of her faith, hope, and self-healing.
“Sharing who I am is therapy for me,” said Favor-Hamilton. “Happiness was always inside of me, but I had to dig deep down and find it. Now I share it.”
Read more of Brian’s stories about the fascinating places and personalities that shape Western Montana in his blog archive.
Brian D’Ambrosio is a Missoula writer, editor, instructor, and media consultant. D’Ambrosio’s recent articles have been published in local, regional, and national publications, including High Country News, USA Today, Wisconsin Trails, Bark Magazine, Montana Magazine, and Backpacker Magazine. His latest book about legendary vigilante screen actor Charles Bronson, Menacing Face Worth Millions, A Life of Charles Bronson, is available for purchase on Kindle. He is also the author of Montana Summer: 101 Great Adventures in Big Sky Country. It’s available now for $2.00 as an eBook on Smashwords.