Beyond The Finish Line: Interview With Suzy Favor-Hamilton

The three-time Olympian is now a successful real estate agent and mother.

It’s hard to imagine a star athlete such as Suzy Favor-Hamilton ever having to deal with strife in her life. Always smiling, she appeared from the outside to have a picture-perfect life — a loving husband and family, a successful career and many dedicated fans to support her. So often when young runners have a brilliant start, their careers are cut short due to burn-out, injuries or illness. Favor-Hamilton was the exception, but her path was not as easy as it looked. She had to overcome many obstacles, including the tragic death of her brother, who committed suicide. What helped her achieve such success both in running and in her personal life was her ability to find balance and fully face any stumbling blocks that presented themselves. She was also able to go where life called her, which is not always an easy task for athletes who tend to feel more comfortable attempting to control and direct their destiny.

Photo Gallery: Suzy Favor-Hamilton Wins Celebrity Stiletto Dash At Zappos.com Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas

Despite exuding warmth and kindness outside of racing, Favor-Hamilton has always been a fierce competitor. Her extraordinary running resume is filled with impressive wins, national titles and outstanding accomplishments in major races all over the globe. She won more races than any other female collegiate runner, earning nine NCAA titles, 14 All-American awards and 23 Big Ten Championships. The longtime Nike-sponsored athletes is a three-time U.S. Olympian, earned a bronze medal in the 1988 Goodwill Games, won seven U.S. National Championships, has run sub 4-minutes in the 1500m five times. For a while, she was considered the queen of American middle distance running.

Today, Favor-Hamilton’s schedule isn’t filled with track sessions, racing plans and physical therapy appointments. Instead, Favor-Hamilton is focused on selling real-estate and giving motivational speeches. The biggest change in her life, however, was when she transferred gracefully from being an Olympic athlete to becoming a mother in 2005.

Competitor.com recently caught up with Favor-Hamilton, and got her take on the transition from competitive athlete to mother.

Competitor.com: As one of the most accomplished high school runners in the country at one time, with 11 state titles and three junior national titles, you must have started running at a young age. How did you achieve such longevity in your career and not get burned-out like so many other athletes who have success right out of the gate?

Suzy Favor-Hamilton: Yes, I started running young and started competing when I was about 12 years old. My high school coach pushed me really, really hard, but I always told him I was ready for it. I wish I had been better about managing the anxiety before big workouts and that includes later in my career as well, but I could handle the work. The one thing that helped me most with a lasting career was having balance. It’s important to not put all your eggs in one basket. Be good in many things rather than have the pressure to do well in only one thing.

Competitor.com: Speaking of pressure, how did you keep the mental toughness stepping onto the start line of such big national and international races?

When I knew I had trained hard and was healthy, I had confidence going into bigger races. It was when I was coming off an injury or a bad race or my training wasn’t going well that my confidence took a blow. It wasn’t until later in my career that I learned that I probably shouldn’t have put myself in those positions when I wasn’t feeling sure. When I was young, I thought I should race all the time when it probably would have made more sense to be more selective with my races. I wanted to win, so it would have been better to have been at 100 percent when I got to the start line.

Competitor.com: Despite having some severe injuries, including a back problem that eventually caused your left Achilles tendon to flare up, you managed to remain healthy and strong enough to come back after Achilles surgery in 1999 and become the USA Track and Field Distance Runner of the Year in 2000, making the Olympic team for a third time in the process. How did you avoid getting discouraged during times of injury?

I had a fantastic doctor in Ireland, Doctor Gerard Hartmann, who helped keep my body going. He and my husband, Mark, were constantly reminding me to focus only on getting healthy and to stay in the here and now. Doctor Hartmann would say, “I know you have a race in two months, but don’t think about that right now. Focus only on healing.” The treatments were very painful, but they allowed me to get back to training at full capacity sooner. It was better to do that than try to do what some athletes do and train through an injury.

Competitor.com: Early in your career, you struggled briefly with an eating disorder. How were you able to overcome what often haunts female distance runners throughout their careers?

For me it was about control. I recognized that, in addition to wanting to have control, my eating issues were something that ended up being a feel-good tool. When I recognized this, I was able to address the problem. Later in my career, I worked so hard and was hungry. As a result, I never had a problem eating to fuel my body. My husband was also very supportive and wanted me to be healthy, so he helped me want to take better care of myself.

Competitor.com: You never officially announced your retirement from racing. Was this planned or was it circumstantial?

The biggest reason why I didn’t make an official announcement was because I had my daughter and wanted to make that shift into the next phase of my life with some privacy. I didn’t want or need the attention and wanted to put my own attention on my daughter. During my career, I was aware that I sacrificed some of my family time in order to get to the level I wanted to be. I was lucky to have the support of my husband and family, but when my racing career was over, I needed to create some distance from that part of my life so that I could make the shift into motherhood.

Competitor.com: Is there a chance that you will make a come-back as a Masters runner?

No, I have entered a new phase in my life, and I am happy with that. I don’t think my body would allow it either with the injuries I had. My focus is in other areas of my life now.

Competitor.com: If you didn’t go into running, what do you think you would have done professionally instead?

Gosh, I don’t handle everyday work stress very well, so I couldn’t see myself sitting behind a desk all day. That wouldn’t have been good for me. I was lucky that athletics worked for me, because it gave me that high I needed. After I was done competing, I had to go on medication in order to feel more balanced without that endorphin rush I got from running. I probably would have looked into art as a career option, even though it would have been hard to do in terms of making a living. Still, art was something I felt good about and liked.

Competitor.com: As a last question, do you think your daughter will follow in your footsteps and become a competitive runner?

Right now my daughter loves gymnastics and we also do some speed skating together. She mentioned that she would like to try hip hop dancing, so I don’t think running is in the picture at the moment.

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