A former Olympian shared her story of her personal struggles inside and outside of sports at Women’s Night Out Oct. 5 at Mauston High School’s auditorium.
While she battled for the gold medal in the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympics as a middle distance runner, Suzy Favor Hamilton was also battling her own struggles with bipolar disorder and how a misdiagnoses led her to participate in risky behavior after she stepped off the track, including participation as an escort for one year in Las Vegas. Her story has been featured on ABC’s 20/20 and Hamilton tells her story in a memoir titled “Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running from Madness” and has been a strong advocate for mental health awareness.
“I felt like there was so many people out there that didn’t have a voice,” Hamilton said. “Maybe there’s people in here that don’t have that voice to speak up to tell their story because of shame or embarrassment or community gossip. I felt I needed to be a voice for people who couldn’t because so many people are silently suffering and can’t reach out.”
The Stevens Point native also shared about her brother’s struggle with bipolar disorder and suicide before the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia and how the challenges and setback those face with the disorder were not openly talked about at the time of her brothers passing. In combination with her own story, she also shared his struggles with the disorder to provide a better understanding of a disorder.
Part of her message included focusing illness and the behaviors associated with bipolar disorder, which can range from depression to anger and even hypersexual behavior.
“Because the behaviors are really ugly and people like to focus on that,” Hamilton said. “If we can just start focus on the illness and what medications they are taking how can we help to get rid of their triggers what as a family can we do instead of ignoring it and shunning and shaming just talking about it.”
Hamilton shared how her husband and daughter have been “heroes” towards her recovery and helping her speak out about her challenges, which she emphasized to the audience was just as important as her speaking out.
“If something isn’t really not normal or out of the ordinary extreme cases to take a step back and say wow maybe is there something I can do to help this person instead of ridicule this person,” Hamilton said.
Mary Johnson, of Elroy, said Hamilton’s message provided hope for her to recognize the highs and lows of family members with bipolar disorder.
“(It helped me understand) that there is help out there,” Johnson said.