In the late 1970s, millions of little girls cut their hair into a short, bouncy wedge, signed up for ice skating lessons and tried to emulate their idol's signature move, the Hamill camel. Dorothy Hamill's 1976 Olympic gold medal and subsequent international touring reinvigorated ice skating in the United States, and brought a level of athleticism to the sport that has become the norm. Despite being the darling of the ice skating world for decades, however, Hamill's life wasn't the picture-perfect image seen on television.
Hamill narrates A Skating Life, her new memoir, with clinical dispassion. The story of her formative years is one of nomadic travel from rink to rink and coach to coach in pursuit of better training; the only constant was her emotionally distant mother, who drove her to higher achievement. But her mother was absent for the pinnacle of Hamill's career, her gold medal performance at the Innsbruck games, something that puzzled and hurt Hamill for years.
Unprepared to live on her own after she turned professional, Hamill found herself lost amid the complexities of managing her superstar career. Public adoration of her remained high, however, and it was the act of skating, meeting fans and the freedom of the ice that provided stability, even through her turbulent relationship with first husband Dean Paul Martin (son of Dean Martin), who was killed in a plane crash, and her second marriage to a man who stole her money and habitually cheated on her. After the failure of her second marriage, Hamill reconciled with her estranged parents, who we learn expected continual monetary payback for their sacrifices when she was an amateur. This reconciliation, plus a recognition of the family's depressive medical history, brought focus back to Hamill's life. The bright spot for Hamill is her daughter Alexandra, who became the skater's reason for pushing forward through the trials.
Hamill is still active in the skating community, and her story will give inspiration to anyone striving toward a seemingly impossible dream or dealing with obstacles, whether physical, emotional or mental. Kelly Koepke was one of those little girls sporting Hamill's signature haircut.