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Olympian Favor Hamilton says she found 'escape' in prostitution

| Friday, Dec. 21, 2012, 8:12 p.m.
REUTERS
Suzy Favor Hamilton of the U.S. competes in the women's 1,500-meter first heat at the Sydney 2000 Olympics in this September 27, 2000, photo. (Reuters)

Her image could hardly have been better: Athletic. A knockout. All-American. So accomplished and so wholesome that Disneyland hired her for speaking engagements, the Big Ten named an award after her and the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association made her their pitchwoman.

Yet something troubled Suzy Favor Hamilton. The former track star out of Wisconsin, whose speed and talent took her to seven national championships and three Olympics, ultimately dealt with her demons by stealing away to live as a highly paid prostitute.

An “escape,” she called it, that was really a way of masking an American dream coming unhinged, a real-life tragedy that undercut the myth that success, wealth and fame is a surefire path to happiness.

“I do not expect people to understand,” Favor Hamilton said in a frenzied burst of tweets after details about her secret life became public Thursday. “But the reasons for doing this made sense to me at the time and were very much related to depression.”

Stanley Teitelbaum, a psychologist who wrote the book “Athletes Who Indulge Their Dark Side,” said it's not so difficult to understand. After retiring and spending most of her life trying to live up to a certain ideal and getting her highs from the adrenaline rush of elite, competitive sports, day-to-day life can seem boring.

“You've got to think of an emotional outlet — maybe in her case, a nonconventional outlet — a way of getting high by somehow being a bad girl in contrast to her image of an upstanding, Olympic athlete,” Teitelbaum said.

In an interview earlier this year with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Favor Hamilton said she dealt with anxiety, an eating disorder and struggled with postpartum depression after the birth of her daughter, Kylie, now 7. But, she told the newspaper, “I feel better than I've ever felt.”

At the time of the interview, it turned out, she was doubling as “Kelly Lundy,” a $600-an-hour call girl for an escort service based in Las Vegas.

Apparently, it wasn't for the money. In the Journal Sentinel profile, Favor Hamilton said she gave upward of 60 motivational speeches each year and ran a successful realty firm, in addition to doing appearances for Disney and the Rock ‘n' Roll Marathon series. The Smoking Gun website reported that a check through public records showed she lived in a $600,000 house in the Madison suburb of Shorewood Hills, and that neither she nor her husband, Mark, had any outward signs of financial difficulties.

In the wake of the news, Disney canceled an upcoming appearance by Favor Hamilton, the Orange County Register reported. The Big Ten, which hands out the Suzy Favor Athlete of the Year Award to honor an athlete who won 23 conference and nine NCAA titles, had no comment Friday.

In an interview with The Smoking Gun about her double life, Favor Hamilton said that as a world-class runner she started to believe she was invincible and brought up Tiger Woods, saying, “I mean, he's the biggest athlete ever. He obviously thought he could never get caught.”

Though Woods and Favor Hamilton experienced far different levels of success and fame, Teitelbaum, the psychologist, said their experiences aren't so far removed.

“There's the sense of entitlement, grandiosity, the idea you can do whatever you want without worrying about consequences,” he said. “She needed to have some way to express some other side of herself that didn't feel as clean or wonderful or upstanding as she appeared to be.”

While living the secret life, though, Favor Hamilton couldn't fight the temptation to tell some of her clients who she really was. She believes one of those clients eventually “outed” her — and now her alias is no longer a secret.

“Doing something like that adds to the sense of the drama,” Teitelbaum said. “And there's always a self-destructive component.”

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