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Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running from Madness

Suzy Favor Hamilton hails from Stevens Point, Wisconsin, which is about 16 miles (25.6 km) from where I attended high school. After everything I had learned about her experience as an athlete and a prostitute, I expected “Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running from Madness,” (2015) to include critical reflection of her darkest hours. This book, however, does not have that.

That isn’t to say it isn’t a good read, or that Hamilton doesn’t put herself out there. It is, and she does. The story is about the three-time Olympian’s life until she was outed as a high-priced Las Vegas escort in December 2012. She did not know it at the time, but she was bipolar. She describes her earliest memories of running and the emotional security her achievements offered her and her family. But with her increased notoriety came a greater fear of losing. She said when she accepted her medal after winning the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association girls cross country championship as a freshman, she was overcome with dread, believing she would need to win every state meet until graduation. (As a side note, she did accomplish that feat.) This anxiety increased over time and kept her from the winner’s podium at the 1992, 1996, and 2000 Summer Olympics. Her fear of not living up to “everyone’s expectations” was so intense, she deliberately fell on the track and feigned injury during the 2000 Summer Olympics’ women’s 1500m race when she realized she was not going to medal. Her untreated bipolar disorder led to, among other things, an insatiable sexual drive. This resulted in her eventual double life of a wife and mother in Madison and a highly sought escort in Vegas.

Hamilton does not hold back on the descriptions, and from what I can tell, she paints an honest narrative. What the story lacks is the kind of "bigger picture" self-awareness that shows how her future is going to be different. For example, she struggled academically. She often cheated on her school work at the University of Wisconsin, and said UW athletics surreptitiously supported this. But if she understands the tragic, long-term ramifications this had on her professional development and work habits, she doesn’t say so. Those things are going to stay with her. She also paid $8,000 for a breast reduction after years of being told – sometimes outright, other times subtly – that she didn’t have the “right” runner’s physique. One coach suggested she wear two bras, and another videotaped her running so he could ogle at her bouncing breasts. Again, she says these events happened, but doesn’t say what she has done to develop a healthier relationship with her body. Finally, and this is a big one, she says on multiple occasions that she was ignorant of bipolar disorder and its symptoms. Yet, her brother was bipolar, and his behavior harmed Hamilton from the time she was a young girl. Hamilton said the family did not discuss the subject. Those were Hamilton’s fragile, formative years. Her brother ended up committing suicide in 1999. Again, she said the issue was not discussed. What she doesn’t suggest, however, is that she realizes how far-reaching – and devastating – this family dynamic was on her life. It can negatively influence her and her own family if left unexamined.

I realize there could be reason for this. Perhaps she did not go deeper into aspects like these because she did not want to come across as not taking responsibility for her actions. Or, in the case of her family, she did not think it was appropriate for this book. All understandable. My point is, though, if she would have let the dust settle and written this in, say, five years, this book would be vastly different. It's possible she would be, too.

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