A Woman I used To Know – Suzy Favor Hamilton

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By PJ Browne
Dec. 21, 2012

Editor’s Note: PJ Browne is a former professional soccer player, and a recovered competitive athlete who over the years has covered the sport of athletics for various European publications. He divides his time between Limerick, Ireland, and New Jersey and wrote this piece from Ireland.

Browne became a LetsRun.com friend back in 2002 when he dared to ask Regina Jacobs a question at the Millrose Games before being interrupted by a staffer with the now classic line of, “Don’t you know that Regina is idolized in this country, and she is the most popular female athlete that we have?” He’s written many guest columns over the years for us, including:

*2002 On Regina Jacobs *2002 On Alistair Craig
*2005 On Martin Fagan (a bit ironic now in hindsight) *2006 On Mary Cullen
*2006 On Irish Athletes Attending College In US – A response to that article is here.
*2010: A Profile Of Moses Kipsiro

In this piece, he reflects on Suzy Favor Hamilton and depression. It was written at the end of the year but was lost in the Holiday shuffle as one staffer went on vacation. We now present it to you on January 12, 2013.

A Woman I used To Know – Suzy Favor Hamilton

It’s been a quare auld year as they say in these parts. Four friends died – two were journalists/writers of renown – Con Houlihan and Arthur Quinlan. One was a well-known banjo player, popularly known as The Pecker Dunne, and last but not least, was Paidi O Se, a player that I marked in Minor (U18) Gaelic football in 1973. Lance Armstrong finally got his comeuppance and Suzy Hamilton found herself embroiled in a highly publicised sex escort scandal. There is no satisfaction to be derived from any of the foregoing; sadness certainly, but not the sadness of despair.

Bear with me reader. Let me thank the boys who run this website for giving me the space to ramble on, because I’m inclined to do so more and more. That said, there is no agenda driving these reflections.

 

21 December 2012 – The Winter Solstice, Lough Gur, County Limerick

The shortest day of the year and a friend calls me to tell me about Suzy Hamilton. She has no interest in athletics but read something in the WSJ. It didn’t take long to grasp the so called gravity of the story thanks to this website. Maybe I’m the exception here, but I was neither shocked, surprised, or saddened. Many years back I was diagnosed as being “profoundly disturbed,” so that may account for my indifference. “What is the big deal here?” summed up my feeling. In any case I’ve always like the ring to that diagnosis even though it’s a load of codswallop.

Furthermore, the world didn’t end that day as the Mayans had predicted. Life for SFH may have taken a sharp detour this year but there is plenty of living yet to be done.

Needless to say, the Suzy scandal caused nary a ripple over here. How could it when the people are struggling with increased suicide (the highest in Europe), devious conniving bankers, the ongoing national drink/alcohol strategy and a new abortion row? The drink strategy is a new spin on an old tale. Basically, we continue to drink as much as we can but more so at home since it’s cheaper.

As for abortion, Ireland already has it. We’ve had it for years. The UK performs the service for those who want to avail of it, five thousand or more annually. We outsource it, a handy get out clause for the pro-life fanatics. So this debate is devoid of any moral content. The Catholic Church has no moral standing on abortion apart from calling it the “culture of death.” A decades old cover up of the culture of paedophilia has undermined the respect that the church once commanded.

 

It’s well over a decade now since I last spent time in the company of SFH. I got to know her through Gerard Hartmann‘s clinic down in Patrick Street, Limerick. It was a small but burgeoning clinic in those days. Hartmann subsequently moved his clinic to the more spacious University Of Limerick campus, miles from the heart of the city. Patrick Street is now closed from without and within, most of the shops and houses boarded up to deter the drug dealers and the homeless, a striking fallout from when Ireland was rich and we thought it would never end.

Ursula Kelly was the receptionist and a sweeter kinder woman you will not meet. She is no longer with the Hartmann Clinic . I knew her husband Paddy; he was fond of a pint of Guinness and they had a West Highland Yorkshire terrier ,a beautiful white haired animal. My kids back In NJ had recently been given a Yorkie so we had plenty to chat about.

 

Suzy Favor Hamilton and 2004 Olympic Silver Medallist Meb Keflezighi in Las Vegas on Dec. 2nd at the 2012 Las Vegas Rock n Roll Marathon

In those days, athletes would come and go the premises on Patrick Street; some would live in the adjoining upstairs apartments. It was a hectic coming and going of elite athletes across many sports. Moses Kiptanui, Khalid Khannouchi, Sonia O’Sullivan, Paula Radliffe, Kelly Holmes, SFH, and countless big name stars could wander the streets of Limerick. Only a very few might turn heads.

I wrote a few pieces about Suzy, her early days, her remarkable collegiate career, the suicide of her manic-depressive brother and how it shaped the path she took. We spoke about what defines an athlete’s success and the Olympics. She was still coming to terms with the death of her brother and found support, warmth and assurance among her friends in Limerick.

She was easy to like, forever smiling, with an easy mid-western way that drew people to her. One got the sense that she was insecure and a bit vulnerable but her track ambitions were steadfast. There was a toughness beneath the surface certainly enough to realize her athletic ambitions. Hindsight says we may have got it wrong in some way; we didn’t know her at all.

To be fair to SFH, not once did she point the finger at rivals who were suspected of using drugs. She had an unerring optimism that her day would come. Through her I met and got to know her baseball loving husband, Mark. He never failed to respond to emails, phone calls, questions when his wife was at a track meet or traveling. They were devoted to each other, very much in love – a devotion that will endure.

I quoted the poet Patrick Kavanagh in one of the profiles –

“I saw the danger yet I walked along the enchanted way/And I said let grief be a falling leaf/At the dawning of the day.” Raglan Road

Oft quoted by many of the poet’s admirers, these lines had a prescience that no one could have known. That day we walked the streets of Limerick down by the Old Quarter. We took photographs along the riverfront, down by the Treaty Stone and around King John’s castle. We ate at the Hunt Museum Cafe a haven for athletes in search of good bread and soup. She was returning to Wisconsin the next day and I got two copies of the film developed at the one hour service in Ferguson’s Chemist on the corner of William Street and O’Connell Street. As we said our goodbyes she hugged me; SFH was always big on hugs and hugely thrilled about going home to Wisconsin and her loved ones. That was the last time we met.

 

We kept in touch of course as she prepared for the Olympics. She was much sought after for interviews and appearances. There was never a bother with newspapers or magazines. Her story sold itself . Months after her collapse in the 1,500m Olympic Final, the New York Times published an interview with SFH. They wanted the inside story and I gave it to them. That was fine except they rewrote the whole thing. The quotes were left intact though.

Contact was intermittent after that. SFH moved into her post athletic career and I headed back to Ireland in search of the Celtic Tiger. He had left the country and taken Irish middle distance running with him. Irish athletics was entering a lean spell. Mark Carroll, one of the all time Irish greats, saw his career undermined by a series of injuries. Sonia O’Sullivan retired, sort of. Caitriona McKiernan left the scene also. Alistair Cragg was the new kid on the block but was buried with indecent haste when he failed to deliver. However, we may not have heard the last of him.

Time passed. Communication technology grew by the day and people were never so close and so apart. But some things didn’t change. I thought I knew a thing or two about depression, and in truth I did. But it was minor league compared to major psychotic depression, losing one’s mind, and drifting inexorably into a darkness that words could not convey. My family were exposed to the futility, the powerlessness, and the insidiousness of this monster that came among us.

Then came the drugs from Xanax to Zoloft, Cymbalta and Clonazepam and many, many more alone or in combination. Hope followed by despair and the revolving doors of mental institutions. Brief respites of insight gave hope only for it to be snatched away again. Ultimately the ECT was administered.

What I can now say about depression is that the irrational and the bizarre become the norm. There is no blueprint in a hit and miss mixture of drugs, incarceration and therapy. In my case, Zoloft turned me into a daring, brazen individual much to the embarrassment of my family.

I’ll give you an example: When Tiger Woods was playing in Australia (he had won four or five Majors) I called the hotel where he was staying and fabricated a fantastic story about an Irish newspaper. I took a call the following day from Woods and I got my interview. The newspaper in question was skeptical that he had spoken to me. They made a few calls and my story checked out. I can thank Zoloft for giving me the recklessness to do that (I got 200 euro for the exclusive but I was never in it for the money).

 

Above all else an insight into depression gives one compassion and empathy. That is why I was unmoved when my friend alerted me to the SFH sex scandal. This brings me back to Patrick Kavanagh and a previous generation of Irish women who were very wise when it came to love. Love as much as you can and you will be loved was their credo. Kavanagh wrote beautifully about love, possibly better than any Irish poet including Yeats, who only saw the idea and the theme but never got to the guts of it.

George Sheehan came close to it as well but he was a physician and lecturer too hurried to allow it to develop. However, both Kavanagh and Sheehan in their own ways spent their lives essentially committed to answering the question, what is the secret of life – questions without answers surely.

Certainly SFH and her husband will be asking questions in the months and perhaps the years to come. And they may learn that they cannot understand the bits of wisdom that they find. In the meantime, one hopes that they’re allowed the privacy to work their way through this . What the future holds for them is theirs alone to know. This writer does not question, judge, ridicule or, as Kavanagh wrote, laugh at “the young girl’s lovely fall.” (PK – If Ever You Go To Dublin Town)

In another familiar line he wrote – “Oh I loved too much and by such and such is happiness thrown away.” Love and fear, the emotions that bind us and sometimes leave us scarred.

A final thought: SFH is remembered fondly by her friends in Limerick. Should she ever come to visit, she can pull up a chair and join us at the fireside, as the kettle is filled for a fresh pot of tea.


  Comments? Email us and we’ll forward them to PJ Browne.