Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running from Madness

By Suzy Favor Hamilton
304 pp. Dey Street Books. $15.99.

Do you know anyone with bipolar disorder? Personally, this was an important consideration while progressing through “Fast Girl”. Bipolar, or manic depression, can produce shocking behavior. Defined as “a mental condition marked by alternating periods of elation and depression”, those words don’t seem to sufficiently paint a bipolar person’s potential careless, narcissistic actions. Undoubtedly, some will damn author Suzy Favor Hamilton for her acts that make the book anything but dull. Strive to avoid this prosecution. Having observed the deeds of a bipolar person, who is very much a part of my life, did help provide perspective. “Mommy’s brain doesn’t always work right,” Suzy’s husband, Mark Hamilton, explains to their young daughter. It’s a simple, accurate declaration.

In her early years, Hamilton, a three-time Olympian, manages her mental afflictions with running. One of 4 children in her family, her brother “Dan” matched her high energy output. This would not be the only likeness between them (i.e., bipolar). During Suzy’s childhood, Dan’s poor behavior generates greater social problems, retaining more of his family’s concerns. Dan successfully gains medical help, managing his behavior with a drug cocktail. However, his battle would ultimately end in great sorrow. Dan, ceasing his meds, decides to take his life.

Hamilton’s natural inclination to run results in success on her middle and high school’s track and cross country teams, obsessing to win at all times. She earns a U.S Junior Nationals win, leading to bigger aspirations for her athletic career. Earning full scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, more running excellence occurs in college and Olympic dreams abound. During this time, Hamilton exhibits bulimia (eating disorder) tendencies, believing there to be a link in starving herself and winning races. Her college career would consist of nine NCAA track championships (at the time the most for any athlete). During her college career she also meets and later marries a University of Wisconsin baseball player (her husband, Mark). Post college, Hamilton signs on to numerous endorsement deals, highlighted by Reebok. Her focus is now the Olympics. She competes in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 editions.

Her Olympic appearances now behind her, “Fast Girl” segues to it’s more scandalous content. Hamilton gives birth to a daughter and she and her husband set up a real estate business. However, the venture doesn’t hold her focus (although Mark does leverage it to provide a source of income for the family). Instead, Hamilton finds herself cratering in postpartum depression. That depression ignites Hamilton’s still undiagnosed bipolar disorder, which is unintentionally further boosted by a drug (Zoloft) meant to manage the depression. A wedding anniversary trip to Vegas is life altering. Hamilton proposes that an escort tryst would be a welcome addition to their well-played romance. The experience puts her on a path of no return. Hamilton decides the escort life is for her, becoming fully employed in it’s shady dealings. “Fast Girl” expounds on this very dark, seedy period in Hamilton’s life (i.e., for mature readers only). Ultimately, Hamilton is outed by a reporter from “The Smoking Gun” website. She, and her family, are dragged through the ordeal of exposing Hamilton’s double life to the public. A suicide attempt results in a hospital stay for Hamilton, which finally produces a bipolar disorder diagnosis.

Throughout it all, Hamilton’s husband is aware of her actions. He strives to hold their family together and provides some semblance of normalcy for their daughter. (Mark deserves consideration for every humanitarian award in existence.) Their extended family, of course initially shocked by the news of Hamilton’s boorish behavior, chooses forgiveness. Credit Hamilton for her willingness to tell her story and desire to now assist others with mental health education.


#DidYouKnow courtesy “Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running from Madness”: During a 1986 NCAA track and field 10,000 meter championship race, Kathy Ormsby, a top college runner, found herself fledgling in fourth place. Her response was to veer off the course and jump from a bridge resulting in paralysis. In “Fast Girl”, Hamilton shares Ormsby’s example as another instance of dark, depressive tendencies.

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