Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton shares his philosophy on winning – and losing – as well as his personal story about living through four cancer diagnoses. Skating instructor Paula Trujillo of the Scott Hamilton Skating Academy also teaches Andrew how to ice skate! Don’t miss a single episode of Dinner Conversations – subscribe below!
TRANSCRIPT FROM THE SHOW
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Mark: This is gonna be a great episode today, y’all. Scott Hamilton is here, the skater. I used to watch him when he was younger and I was younger too. He’d spin around and get all those Olympic medals.
Andrew: Oh yeah, he was the first one who did some kind of triple axel lutz.
Mark: And he’s here today telling us about how it’s important that we win. He came from a totally different angle ’cause I kinda challenged him a little bit on that because I think to win you gotta lose.
Andrew: First shall be last, last shall be first.
Mark: Yeah, that’s right. But he is kinda coming at it from a different direction. How would you say it?
Andrew: Yeah, he’s just talking about how winning is important because it motivates us into excellence in each of our crafts. It kinda gets us off of the couch and gets us into our goals. And he’s someone who you would think didn’t have a whole lot of troubles in his life and journey because of his achievements, yet his story goes very deep into a lot of interesting places.
Mark: So there’s one seat left at the table, and it’s yours. Let’s join the conversation.
Scott Hamilton, Olympic Ice Skater
Mark: Well, you got a new book, Scott.
Mark: Finish First, and when I saw this today for the first time–
Scott: Well, I gotta do a better job of promoting if you just saw it now for the first time. No, you’re busy, I know you’re busy. We thought that this kind of book would be great to release during an Olympic games because it kind of has this competitive identity. It’s about how competition’s good, very good, and the lack of competition is bad, very bad. And so, it’s just this idea of kind of, sort of giving people a chance, a little bit of a prod. So it’s basically, if I had to describe it in a sentence, it’s an argument for and a guide to being your best self.
Mark: Well, first thing, I thought was Jesus said, “First shall be last.”
Scott: And “last shall be first.”
Mark: You know, my Baptist brain. “The last shall be first,” so–
Andrew: So, it almost feels, it’s a jarring title.
Mark: Yeah, it feels like, wait a minute, are we really supposed to, I mean–
Scott: But it’s an aspirational thing, right? I think within us is always this kind of idea of what if it were me? What if I were the one that would be able to achieve this or be recognized? All these things that we strive for that it’s naturally in our design.
Scott: That’s right, it’s in our design. These little things like, okay, we’re going to recognize somebody today for a really well done job. And we just think for a second, could that be me? You know, it’s like, and we lean in, right? And a lot of people aren’t leaning in anymore, you know? You know, with a lot of the way that we prepare our kids now is with participation trophies and we’re not going to count runs. Nobody wins, nobody loses. No, everybody’s going to feel good when we leave. That’s lazy parenting, all right?
Mark: Well, what do you have for the losers?
Scott: Honestly, I give you one word: feedback. No, because feedback. Failure is information. Purely, that’s it, and we’ve given it this debilitating identity that failure is awful and we’ve got to avoid failure at all costs because we’re going to drag it around with us. Failure is there. It’s like the second it’s over, I’ve fallen on the ice in my time, I estimate on the low end 41,600 times. But you get up 41,600 times, and you know what you’re able to do? Get up, you know? You’ve just got this muscle that’s built by getting up, and when bad things happen or if things don’t go the way you want them to, it’s kind of like, okay.
Mark: But you’re an Olympic winner and bad things never happen to you.
Scott: Are you kidding me? No, it’s like, name one thing that hasn’t happened. I haven’t died yet, that’s about it. But even then, I have the promise of a better life in a body that won’t do what mine does all the time.
Mark: Which is–
Scott: Get sick.
Mark: You’ve had cancer. You have cancer?
Scott: Well, I had a childhood illness that was four years where I didn’t grow.
Mark: A childhood illness?
Andrew: Misdiagnosis is in the middle of that, too?
Scott: It was undiagnosed, basically. There was a couple missed, but none that they ever acted on. It was kind of like, we don’t know, we don’t know, we don’t know and then I started skating and all the symptoms went away, which is remarkable. And then, in 1997, I had testicular cancer— Did all the chemo, stage three. All the chemo, the tumor in my abdomen, I’m not a big person, it was twice the size of a grapefruit. How do I miss that?
Mark: I don’t know.
Scott: It’s 4% body fat. How do I miss that?
Andrew: Yeah, you would think that would look like pregnancy.
Mark: And you didn’t feel it?
Scott: I did. It hurt a lot, but I was just working through it because I’m a guy, right? We’re bulletproof. We don’t care about stuff like that. We don’t need doctors. We’re just going to keep going. And then, it got to a point where I couldn’t stand up straight anymore. And so, I went in and got diagnosed with some form of cancer. They didn’t know what it was, but there was a mass, and I thought that was pretty funny because nobody had ever used the word mass in description of me before, you know?
Andrew: In your mind, being cautious or not going in to see what that was about, was there a failure kind of mentality like, if I am sick–
Scott: No, it was I thought I worked myself into an ulcer. Because we’re working hard to build this show–
Mark: When you heard the “C” word, what did you think?
Scott: Well, it was about 20 years, almost to the month, that I lost my mom to cancer, so the fear was extraordinary because I saw how she diminished and how she suffered and everything else, and I thought, oh, boy, that’s going to be me and I’ll never, I’m going to lose the life that I’ve always known, and it’s going to be hard, and if I even survive, it’ll never be the same. All those negative things are things we can tell ourselves, but the reality of it was by the time I got to the official diagnosis, I’d built all this material of going through the biopsy, which was hysterical, and then getting through all the parade of doctors with their officiousness, giving me the diagnosis, which was hysterical, and then, my nurse kind of understood me right away, and wouldn’t let anybody in my room unless they made me laugh, you know? And so, I wanted to control the environment, I wanted it to be, in the end, not a memory of suffering but a memory of laughter. And a memory of, you know. And so she treated me like an 8-year-old. She decorated my chemo bags every time because I’d two 4-hour infusions five days in a row, and then 16 days off, and then two 4-hour infusions. You know, four hours, four hours. It was like a full-time job for five days and then 16 days off. So, I did that for four rounds, and when I was done, I looked like a completely different person, completely different physicality. And then, I had to wait for a 38-staple surgery, which was, that’s a lot for a little guy like me. So, then, when I got through that, you know, so much of my mom came back to me when I was going through all that because she would say these really amazing things like, “Oh, this chemotherapy! I finally found a way to lose all this weight. Oh, I love this chemo! I wanted to quit smoking all these years, and now, I have no desire at all.” And then, “Oh, this chemo. I hate my hair. These wigs are so much easier.” This is my mom, right?
Andrew: So this was her personality, too?
Scott: But I didn’t remember any of that because my thing was mourning her in a really powerful, very dedicated way of getting past me being a loser, basically, which I was a very dedicated loser. I’d come in last or close to the bottom in every national competition I was in, and when you’re a girl and you medal in skating, you’re really pretty good. If you’re a guy and you don’t medal in skating, it’s really not. It’s rough.
Andrew: It means you can’t skate?
Scott: So, you’ve got to figure it out, right? You’ve got to figure out, what do I need to do? And what I realized was that there was a lot of things about skating that I didn’t like. There was a lot of things about it that I loved, but I didn’t like the tediousness of tracing those figure eights, and I didn’t like a lot of the really, I have to go through my program every day? I get tired. I don’t want to do that.
Andrew: And bored?
Scott: I was choosing what parts of my job I liked, and I was eliminating the rest. So, I wasn’t very good and I would go to competition and I would lose. The last competition my mother ever saw me skate in, I came in ninth, Nationals.
Scott: And I was awful. I was really not there. It was bad. I mean, I look back on those days now, and it was like, thank goodness that I had a coach that kind of reached down and grabbed me by the, and he goes, “All right, whatever you do away from the ice, that’s your responsibility. When you’re on the ice, we’re going to use this time and we’re going to be very structured. Everything’s going to be great.” And he taught me how to train with a real intensity, and from then on, I made it to the ’88 Olympics, and I went four years undefeated. That’s the second part of the title, is winning changes everything. So, when you get into a pattern of doing things that are productive, when you get into a pattern of doing things that allow you to move forward instead of getting stuck or knowing that I know I could be doing better, but I don’t really feel like doing–
Mark: Well, now you’re older.
Scott: Yeah, much older.
Mark: You’re 59, correct?
Mark: I’m 59.
Scott: Oh, that’s 60.
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Andrew Learns to Skate with Paula Trujillo
Andrew: I want you to take note of something real quick. You see the smiles on the children’s faces? That is, (clears throat) that is before they skate. We shall see how those smiles turn into frowns.
Paula: So we’re not really…
Andrew: Teach me to skate.
Paula: It’s all about how to stay a little bit low, like a low rider, like a low rider car. You wanna stay low to the ground, a smooth car like a Cadillac.
Andrew: I am a gold medalist, Paula.
Paula: Very good! I like your wide base, just bring them a little bit closer so they’re right underneath your hips. You’re doing it.
Andrew: I’m done.
Paula: If we just… (laughs)
Cameraman: You haven’t fallen yet.
Andrew: Can we just not say that out loud?
Paula: He needs to learn to spin now.
Andrew: I don’t know why that convinced you I need to learn something else. If you think you can’t skate–
Paula: You can do this. Anybody can, it’s just science. You got this.
Mark: And you recently, I read an article, that Andrew forwarded to me, that you are no longer with NBC.
Scott: My role has changed.
Mark: Can we get your attitude on that?
Andrew: Well, first explain the–
Scott: Okay, so I’ve been the lead analyst for figure skating for seven Olympics, three with CBS and four with NBC.
Andrew: Which is phenomenal in and of itself. That’s a long run.
Scott: It’s huge. It went from Dick Button to me. The guy that invented it to me, and it’s like Dick Button was Harvard educated. I think he went to Harvard Law and Harvard Business School at the same time. Brilliant, right? I negotiated my high school diploma. There’s no way in the world that I should be in a position of actually speaking to masses of people. So I always just felt like the luckiest guy in the room and that I was fooling a lot of people and that it was, I really love the sport, I love the skaters, I love the process of preparation. I learned how to do that.
Andrew: It was genuine.
Scott: It was. I loved it, and these skater’s stories deserved to be told in a way that’s supportive and kind and not biting or cutting. They worked hard to get here, really hard, and their families sacrificed everything. So honor that. So I did it for a long time, and then we were in Sochi and Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski were taking– It was really funny. They were sucking up all the air in the room because they were fresh and it was really wild looking and they had this really great rapport, and I looked at that and it’s like okay, that’s a lot of momentum. Okay, whatever’s next is whatever’s next. And it took several months. It was not until the fall that I reached out to see if they wanted me to schedule my time with them.
Andrew: For this winter games, this past?
Scott: No, no, no, that was just for the nationals, the next year, and for Skate America actually ’cause I was getting speaking offers and I thought it would be– I want to respect NBC if they need me. I don’t want to leave ‘em. And so I got a call from the main guy at NBC who just said, we’re gonna make a change. And I said I knew that. I knew it from the time I set foot in Sochi all the way through the end. I knew that more than likely they were gonna go new, young, hip, trendy, all that really great stuff, and my goodness, they have a phenomenal rapport together.
Mark: Well, every person goes through that, right, as you get older? Now 100 years ago, people our age were already dead. So now we’re living longer, but we’re seeing our younger– Obviously, that’s the way the circle of life works.
Scott: And it’s fine.
Mark: But how can you help people that might be watching that it’s– How do you accept it so easily?
Andrew: Yeah, when it’s hard to take that information.
Scott: Well, it’s almost like you have to process out the negativity of it. When I was first told, it was like, my first instinct was, wow, that’s a big chunk of my life that’s– And it’s like, well, let’s not get melodramatic. I go, okay, I love doing it, and it was a really wonderful thing and I really enjoyed the process. I loved being the voice on these skaters, who I’m huge fans of. I loved being the voice when they’re on the big experience, and I mourned it. I really did. I mourned it for about 10 minutes. And then I was fine. And I got this text–
Mark: Now what did that 10 minutes look like though?
Scott: It felt like I’d failed.
Andrew: Punch in the gut?
Scott: A little bit. It felt like I let people down or I should’ve done better. All those things that are a trap and mean nothing and are worthless. We just put ourselves through this thing, and I realized, no, no, no, no, no, change was inevitable, and now whatever happens next, because in that same phone call, they said, “We’re keeping you on in some capacity.”
Andrew: Right, you did Olympics on Ice with the network?
Scott: We did Olympic Ice, and honestly, when I got there, I was freaking out because it’s like, when you’re doing the Olympics and it starts with the team event, it’s like an upside down iceberg. When the iceberg’s right, you see this much but you don’t know all this is. Well, it’s upside down now, so I have to know all of this stuff. I have to have all these facts about all these skaters and all their performances and all their records and everything else and I don’t live on planet world skating day to day. So I have to study and I have to make some– And two nights I lost sleep, and it wasn’t a time change. It was two nights I was scared to death ’cause it’s like I have to do an hour-long talk show and talk about these people. It’s like I’m gonna fail. And I woke up one morning and my book was sitting up against the counter there and I looked and I go, oh yeah, that’s right, get to work. And so I put my head down and I just got to work, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had of any Olympics.
Andrew: Well, striving for excellence, like that’s what I see in this book, that’s what I hear in your conversation. Isn’t there something spiritual, isn’t there a spiritual element to no matter what we devote our days to, no matter what work that is, no matter what family looks like, et cetera, striving for excellence, that’s what you’re talking about. There’ll be failure, and you call it pain points, I like that, along the way. But striving for excellence, is that a spiritual thing?
Scott: I think it is. I mean, think about this. We are children of God. He has blessed us with unique abilities. We are the only one of us that’s ever been on this planet in the history of the world. We are given certain talents, certain things about us that make us unique. It’s up to us to reveal them and exploit them. And if we don’t, I just don’t think we’re living a full life. I don’t think we’re living the life that God wants us to live. And how do we know how we’re doing? Competition is good. Competition is— It’s like I look at, okay, why is the United States the United States and Haiti Haiti? Why?
Mark: God has blessed America.
Scott: Well, okay, that’s big huge part of it. That’s about the biggest part of it, but okay, it’s a whole spiritual conversation, but let’s look at how there is no competition in Haiti.
Mark: Is there not?
Scott: As far as I know, and I’ve been down there a lot, every single business is a monopoly. Well, there’s three banks, yes. They’re all owned by the same family. It’s like, come on.
Andrew: So there’s no competition?
Scott: There’s no competition, so there’s no real need. They control–
Andrew: So competition is not just for bettering ourselves even. It also betters the climate around us or the culture around us.
Scott: It allows the bar to get raised each time.
Mark: But I hate it for me personally, and let me tell you why. I have never– I cannot imagine going on American Idol, even as a kid. The thought of–
Mark: Because first of all, never thought I was good enough to do that.
Scott: That’s not your calling. That’s not your purpose. Your purpose is right here, right now. You do this, and you do it well.
Mark: But I’ve never had to compete that I remember.
Scott: Well, you’re competing for viewership. You’re competing for–
Mark: I guess so.
Scott: You put yourself out there to drum up interest.
Andrew: You do put yourself out there. I mean that’s part of it, right?
Scott: A lot of people would be paralyzed by that. Just give me a ledger, and let me sit in a room and just count numbers.
Andrew: While they’re dreaming of something else.
Scott: No, like they’re dreaming of being the best at that.
Mark: But we need people to do that too. If I didn’t have somebody pushing a pencil, I would be bankrupt.
Scott: We’re all given different purpose, different identities, different skillsets. I met a little girl in Korea, and the venue manager in PyeongChang and I got to be really good friends. Great guy, loves the Lord, and we were just, we just struck up this really unique friendship, and he goes, “I need you to talk to my staff.” And I go, “Why?” And he goes, “Hope has been driven out of our culture.” And I’m like, “Oh, that’s really rough.” And so I did kind of a finish first talk to the staff, and they’re from all over the world, but most of them are Korean and this little girl came up to me, and this is really significant. She came up to me and she goes, and she was almost like frustrated. She said, “I don’t understand something. “Can you answer a question for me?” And I go, “Of course.” And she goes, “Purpose, what is purpose? I’m not good at anything.” She said it just like that. And I’m like, who’s been talking to you? I’m not good at anything. And it’s like she was angry that she wasn’t good at anything or bitter that she wasn’t good at anything. And I go, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, let’s tap the brakes on this a little bit. What do you love to do? What brings you more happiness than anything else?” And she said, “I like to read.” And I go, “What were the last two books you read?” And she said, “Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.” And I said, “You love the classics.” And she said, “I do.” And a big smile went on her face and I go, “Maybe you’re an author.” And her eyes went like that, just like that little thing of like, holy cow, I’ve been given permission. How many people have not been given permission to live out their purpose, to live out what they’re designed to do, what they would love to do, what would bring them incredible joy and significance in their lives? They just get smothered under all this, you don’t ever want to fail. Well, guess what. Let’s just deal with that right now. Failure’s okay. Failure’s fine. Failure’s in the past. Failure is something–
Andrew: And failure’s information.
Mark: And failure can be good. You say it’s information.
Scott: The greatest single ingredient, if we had a recipe for success, the biggest single ingredient would be failure. It would have to be. But you think about that, it’s like yeah, probably that’s right. But I don’t know if I want to live through that. If a baseball player only fails two out of three times, they’re in the Hall of Fame.
Andrew: Right, right, right, right.
Scott: So you think about, let’s look at failure about what it is, but I look at it– I use examples in the book, like Michael Bloomberg fired without severance. There’s all these people that came from, and they built these giant, and I’m not saying that everybody has to build this gigantic, but it’s about what will bring you, in your–
Mark: For somebody who’s watching, a 45-year-old single lady who never got married. I know there’s one out there watching probably right now thinking I’ve had the dream. So you would ask them, “What do you love?” Is that what you would ask?
Scott: What are you drawn to? What brings you joy? What brings you happiness? What brings you peace? And then just sort of look at that, ’cause I look at my recipe out of the gate was I was adopted at six weeks of age. I was sick as a child. My parents were school teachers, didn’t have the means to make me an elite athlete but kept me in it ’cause it was keeping me well. I didn’t have the coaching ’cause I grew up in a small town. I lost.
Mark: So you got the backstory?
Scott: Well, the thing is is if I can do it, there’s no reason why anyone else can’t. But it’s like what have I learned, and let me guide you through this. When you’re telling somebody to do something, you want ’em to get to it. It’s not world peace. It’s not Bonhoeffer. It’s like, here’s the deal. Here’s what you need to do. Go do it.
Mark: I agree. I always said I’d make a horrible counselor ’cause I’d say, “You know what, the sun is coming up tomorrow whether you’re depressed or not.” I’ve had to learn to be merciful to people who are going through stuff like that.
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Paula Trujillo, Manager, Scott Hamilton Skating Academy
Andrew: All right, so first thing we’re gonna talking about, I learned to skate, Paula.
Paula: You did.
Andrew: So I got a medal.
Paula: You were fantastic.
Andrew: Tell me about my gold medal.
Paula: I’ll tell you what, our first, when I moved here, we had, it was in my office downstairs and it was important to be here on the first day to walk through this walk with Scott ’cause I needed to feel his vision from day one. So I took a redeye and I ended up here, and that morning, I was looking at our rosters and there was four names on it and I was like, oh my gosh, I moved across the country for four skaters. And I was in my office by myself, and all of a sudden, Scott, he just magically appeared and he stood in the doorway and he goes, “Don’t worry. They’ll come.” Anyways, they did, and by the end of that first session, we had probably 70 kids. And since they were our first graduating class, we bought those gold medals for our first graduating class.
Andrew: So that was the beginning of the, one, I love the story of Scott just appearing. He is kind of like a little leprechaun, isn’t he?
Paula: Yes, yes, he is, coolest leprechaun ever.
Andrew: That’s right. But so you moved here from Vegas, and that was four years ago, moved here to Nashville, Tennessee, which we are sitting inside the Ford Skating Ice Center, which houses the Scott Hamilton Skating Academy, and part of that is Learn to Skate. So what you’re referencing is the beginning of Learn to Skate. And tell me, so take me into, I know that you were influenced by Scott and that’s part of what got you here to Nashville and to the Skating Academy, but Learn to Skate, how did that come about? And what is Learn to Skate? I mean, I know I just participated and that you taught me some of the basics and stuff, but you have kids to adults, you run the gamut as far as who is learning to skate. So what is Learn to Skate?
Paula: Well, Learn to Skate is really anything. It’s about the fundamentals of skating. It’s balance, it’s learning to be on the blade and it’s taught in a really creative and fun way for everybody. What we love about it here is it’s affordable for everybody. It’s a great workout. You don’t have to put sparkles on and sequins and go out there. You can come out there, and tomorrow you’re gonna be, you’re gonna be like, that was an awesome workout.
Andrew: I’m gonna feel it.
Paula: Yeah, that’s what our goal is to make it a family environment of learning how to skate, learning how to balance on your blade, and finding that avenue that every kid wants to go, whether it’s figure skating, whether it’s hockey, it’s awesome.
Andrew: Well, this is an easy town to fall in love with hockey. But take me through your history. So where did skating begin for you?
Paula: In White Bear Lake, Minnesota. My entire family skated. My dad was a hockey player, my brother was a hockey player, my sister Sue was a figure skater, and my sister Mary Jo was a speed skater. And so when I was real teeny tiny, I would just get, I would be in the rink all the time anyways. One time when I was just, I think I was like four or five, there was a pair of rental skates laying around, and I just laid on the ground and I put ’em on. My parents were watching some other kid, and I just, all of a sudden they lost me and I was in the middle of a public session out there. I just. I didn’t care. And right before my dad passed away last year, he reminded me that I was super lucky to have found something in my life that I did as a child that was my passion. And then I toured in Ice Capades, that’s where I met Scott and I got do it for a living, and now I’m still doing it for a living. So I feel pretty lucky.
Andrew: You were telling me about one of your programs, which is for kids, and maybe some of them are older kids or young adults who have intellectual disabilities. And their parents are able to come in here and just hang with each other while their kids are supervised in a safe place. But if I think about that, that, one, it’s providing these kids that sometimes are left out or are on the fringes of at least social constructs, opportunity to be in those spaces with one another, and it also, you were talking about how relieving it is for the parents just to come. So talk to me a little bit about what inspired that specific– I think that is so cool. Tell me, what does that look like when you have a group of kids with what you said, intellectual disabilities, out here. I mean, all shapes and sizes and learning curves.
Paula: But what does it mean for them? For me, it’s everything from we started at Coach Cody, he wanted to teach Learn to Skate so bad, and he is a social worker by trade. And he learned to play hockey, well, he learned to skate six years ago. And when he wanted to teach Learn to Skate, he was still pretty new at skating, and he said, “If you give me a shot at this, I’ll never leave you.” And I’m like, “Okay.” And you don’t need to be an Olympic gold medalist to teach young people the beautiful fundamentals of skating. You need to have a passion, you need to have a love, and you need to have a joy for it. And you need to understand some things. He had all those things. He had that, he had everything that you needed to do this, and I think it was probably the best thing for him. And now he’s not doing his social work anymore. Well, he’s actually, I would say he’s doing it.
Andrew: He is but in the arena.
Paula: He’s doing it every day with every person he works with. Parents love him. He’s tough on intellectually challenging kids. He really holds them accountable, and their parents love that. He knows how to get the best out of them.
Andrew: And we talked a lot with Scott about kind of this idea that he’s really been perpetuating and I think has perpetuated through the academy and through the students of finishing first. That it’s not a bad thing to finish, that culturally today, we have this kind of participant mentality, everyone is a winner, and I was hearing you talk about when I was out on the ice too, everyone isn’t a winner, and that’s okay. That one, failure is information, there’s things to learn from losing, but talk to me some about that idea. How do you incorporate that with students? ‘Cause I don’t see you out there, I don’t see anything but encouragement out there, but yet it’s encouragement for excellence and it’s saying it’s okay to win. Is that true?
Paula: True. Yes, we encourage our classes. We want our kids to stay in group classes. We want them to create an environment of cohesiveness, of support for one another, friendship, camaraderie. Their parents hang out up here and discuss everything and hang out, and they are committed, the parents I think are committed, to making sure their kids always feel grounded in when they go to compete against each other that they need to remember the fundamentals of why they started it for joy and that they should want to win at the end of the day, but if they don’t win, it’s okay. Their friend won today, and that’s an okay thing. I think there’s a lot of lessons in life in not winning. You prepare a student and you work them really hard to take what’s considered like a moose in the field. They start at the bottom, and they go all the way up to the senior level. And when you get to the senior level, you’re a gold medalist in the moves in the field. And along that path, these are challenges, and I think if every kid was to pass every test, it would be a disservice. I think there’s something that they learn in not passing that test. They learn compassion. If they’re gonna be a coach someday, they know what it feels like to not pass every test. They know what that feels like. It doesn’t feel good, but you can rise up and you can conquer from it and you can get back to work. You can get gritty and accomplish the things you want to accomplish in skating through hard work and through failure. I always tell students, “You need to raise your expectations to mine because I’m not gonna lower mine to yours.”
Andrew: I love that. It’s true. But we need to be around people like that, too. That’s part of the excellence thing, and that’s kind of part of the whole finish first thing and not being afraid to win is that when we’re around people who are currently at the top of their game, our game gets stronger.
Andrew: And then when we’re at the top of the game, there are people around us who are, and we get to pass the baton in that arena and go on to another arena or go on to another learning experience within what we love. So I think, I really love what you talked about with the kids and about how you teach ‘em the friendship and the camaraderie so that as they begin to excel and as they begin to win, and as some begin to lose, there’s a total support system.
Paula: They pick each other up.
Andrew: I think that’s cool. Do you remember a place– You’ve had a storied career. I love hearing about your pathway and through Ice Capades and all these things that like you say, like your dad was saying, to be grateful that you really have found a profession and thing you loved. But there had to be speed bumps along the way. There had to be some things. Can you think of one that was like, yeah, that felt like a failure or that felt like losing, but it was actually a propeller forward?
Paula: My parents didn’t have a lot of money. So skating, my opportunities were very small. The funding for that, I had to really be resourceful, and I think because of that, some of the other coaches in the rink, I think this is where I just learned that share your knowledge and never, ever waste it. It should always be shared. I remember standing behind other coaches and they would let me listen in on their lessons as they were teaching somebody else because they knew I could only afford one or two lessons a week while other kids would go from coach to coach and two or three lessons a day and could move up the skill, acquiring those skills was quicker when you are given more instruction. But I was just like, I would be listening, and I think that was the biggest game changer for me is that even though you don’t, you can get anywhere you want. It’s not necessarily who you are, it’s what you know. And using that knowledge to help everything kind of propelled me into everything. Then I joined Ice Capades. I got good enough to join Ice Capades, that’s what I wanted to do. That’s where I met Scott. He was in Ice Capades for one year and it was family and it was awesome. But in Ice Capades, that’s where I just, I learned that hard work, kids that were seniority people, it was my first year on the show, and I remember staying and watching rehearsals where it was seniority people, and only the people that had been on the show for 10 years got to be in that number. And I watched it every day, every rehearsal, and then one day when we were in some city, there was a flu epidemic, and there was seven people out of the show and they needed somebody in that number and I’m like, “I can do it. I could do it.” So I think it’s that constant learning thing that has propelled me forward in this sport, and I have a thirst for knowledge. I’m still learning every day. I don’t even think I’m very good at this job yet, and I like that feeling. I like constantly trying to challenge myself and push myself past my own current state.
Andrew: But there’s still more.
Paula: There’s more.
Andrew: Well, and I even think of you as a little girl kind of eavesdropping in and those coaches even without speaking allowing you to do that. And what I think about is now look at that kind of almost full circle. You’ve got a long way to go, but here at the Skating Academy, not only you coaching, but you’re gonna be mindful and aware and cognizant of those kids around you and their situations, not only when they’re here on the ice but when they’re at home. And so I think it’s pretty cool how that comes full circle. I think you’re pretty cool.
Paula: I think you’re cool. You’re the best.
Andrew: I want to take it back even to cancer ’cause you’re like this bundle of positivity. It’s amazing how much positive energy’s coming out of you. But yet I think about, okay, your childhood backstory, but we didn’t kind of finish the progression of testicular cancer 21 years ago, then a brain tumor and then another brain tumor and currently you’re living with cancer.
Scott: Can you see it?
Mark: Where is it?
Scott: It’s right there.
Mark: Is it, really? I don’t see it.
Scott: I don’t see it either.
Andrew: I would be screaming unfair.
Mark: Where are you right now?
Scott: It’s shrinking.
Mark: Oh, it is?
Scott: No one can explain it.
Mark: It’s shrinking and no one can explain it?
Andrew: So you asked the doctor why it was shrinking?
b: And yeah, the first one said God. I was on the Dr. Oz Show–
Mark: Okay, first of all where is it?
Scott: The pituitary.
Mark: Right in the center of your brain?
Scott: Yeah, right here.
Mark: And how big is it? What’s the story? What kind is it?
Scott: It was presenting itself. The first time it got kind of gangly, and it was wrapped around stuff. And so they did radiation, and it was kind of whole brain radiation. I used to be a lot smarter than I am now, and I could put a sentence together. But when you put your brain through radiation, it tends to–
Andrew: This was the first–
Scott: That was the first brain tumor, yeah. ‘Cause they caught it late. It just sort of happened. And so they caught it, and then here’s the crazy part. When they did the biopsy, they dig a hole in your head. There’s a little divot right there. They dig a hole in your head, and they go down in, they take a piece, they come back out, and it’s like, they told me we found a safe corridor we feel. I’m not really using much of it, so have at it. Like no, no, no, lot of bad things can happen. They have to tell you, the doctors, they have to tell you all the bad things that can happen.
Scott: Yeah, right. So it’s like, oh, I could lose motor function, memory, I won’t be able to speak, okay. All right, let’s go ahead and do it. You have no choice, right? And so they–
Andrew: I guess.
Scott: I woke up, I knew who I was, where I was, why I was there, and I went, “Test. Okay, I can speak.” All right, so that went well, the surgery went well.
Scott: But it was, they found out that I was born with this brain tumor. And it usually shows itself due to a lack of growth and development as a child. So that was my childhood illness. But I skated all those years, it didn’t do anything.
Mark: So what is it doing now?
Scott: Now it seems to be through a lot of prayer and a lot of healthy decisions and a lot of good things, it’s receding.
Andrew: ‘Cause you’re not doing– Radiation’s no longer an option, right, ’cause of the amount of radiation?
Scott: Yeah, I can’t do it anymore.
Andrew: It would be dangerous.
Scott: I’d probably go blind, and a lot of bad things would happen. And then I could do surgery again ’cause they’d have to undo the last surgery, which didn’t really go as well as they hoped. So it’s like, I’ll do it, I don’t want to do it. I’ll do it. If the Lord wants me to do it, I’ll do it, but right now he gets all the glory on this one ’cause there’s no one– My endocrinologist had the same brain tumor as me as a child and became an endocrinologist because she was being underserved. So she speaks my language, I speak hers. So one visit with her, and I changed every single one of my medications and hormone replacement, and I felt like a normal human being four days later, where before it was like this, and it was like, ugh, here we go again.
Mark: So do you tell people, do you tell people what you’re going– Your food, you say you changed your diet?
Scott: I did.
Mark: Is that in the book?
Scott: No, no, no, everybody’s journey is theirs. I really wrote it in a way that I’m kind of guiding you through, I’m giving you examples of what works, what doesn’t. And you get into again the failure piece. It’s information.
Andrew: Okay, but there’s this quote of yours, and I love quotes, and I love quoting people while they’re in front of me. “So much of my debilitation has been God-given. It’s 100% an invitation.” So do you really feel that cancer has been God’s gift to you?
Scott: Oh, best thing that ever happened to me.
Scott: You know how we can do things that separate us from God and separate us from who we really need to be and who we are?
Scott: Success does that more than failure ever could. Success kind of awakens all your demons, and you look at a lot of people that have been either won the lottery or became a chronic– Fame, right, and it makes them different then they really should be. So I was at like killing it, Stars on Ice was selling out everywhere. It was phenomenal. It was awesome, and I really wasn’t. I knew I wasn’t the person that I needed to be. And it just was haunting me. It was like I was frustrated, and I loved the work, but I didn’t like me very much.
Scott: Internally it was a struggle. It was like I don’t like me very much. I just feel like there’s something broken or missing, and then I was diagnosed with cancer, and it sort of awakened this desire in me to kind of sort it out. And so I just checked out. I did my tours and my work, and then I would kind of go away, try to figure it out. And I ended up in the one place where I could be isolated, alone and left to my own devices, and that’s Los Angeles, California. And it was great because the summers, like anywhere, post tour is summer. I could go anywhere. I found this little community that was peaceful and very pleasant, and three years, I was, two years I was there actually before I met my wife, and I had kind of taken a three-year timeout of just sort of trying to figure it out. It wasn’t healthy, I knew that, mentally. And so cancer really just corrected– It was a course correction for me. And without cancer, I wouldn’t have met, I would not have met Tracy. Without cancer, I wouldn’t have the two sons that I have. Without cancer, I wouldn’t have adopted the two children we did from Haiti, and without any of that, I wouldn’t have been– When Tracy, we were at a point in our dating when she goes, “I have to ask you a very serious question.” And it’s like, “Hit me.” And she said, “Where are you in your relationship with Jesus Christ?”
Scott: And I said what any really intelligent guy would say, “Where do you want me to be?” So she goes, “Well, let’s talk about it.” And so we talked about it. And I had very adolescent views that were– I had belief. I knew that there was something there. I knew that there was someone–
Mark: Were you raised in church?
Scott: Not really. It was sort of–
Mark: So you’d heard of Jesus?
Scott: Oh, of course, yeah. And I tried to read the bible ’cause I skated with Janet Lynn, who was an amazing evangelist, and I tried to read it and I go, try being mildly dyslexic and read Isaiah.
Mark: Oh my.
Scott: Okay, well this isn’t working for me. And so she brought me to her minister, who lives right here in Nashville.
Andrew: Tracy did?
Scott: Tracy did. And he just said, “Where are you?” And I go, “Okay, I don’t understand this. I don’t like this. I don’t get this. This really kind of throws me way off.” And I laid it all out there, and he said, “I couldn’t agree with you more.” I’m like, you’re my friend. And he just handed me a bible and he goes, “Do you like history?” And I go, “I love history. It was my favorite subject in school.” And he goes, “This is a book of history. But don’t look at these stories as stories of the people. Look at these stories of God did this. God was in every single one of these stories. It’ll help you understand God. And then when you get to the New Testament, we’ll talk.”
Mark: So you started in Genesis?
Scott: I started just figuring out. I’d go to church, and I would study, I’d listen, and I got stuck a little bit in Numbers. Leviticus really gave me a little bit, but really the more I dive in, the more I listen, the more I pay attention–
Mark: ‘Cause when did Jesus show up for you? When did that happen?
Scott: He showed up like vividly when I was diagnosed with my brain tumor because I was studying, I was listening, I was believing. I was doing all the things I needed to do in order to kind of really develop a life of faith. But it was when I had to tell my wife that I had a brain tumor when we had a 14-month-old son, and now I’m gonna be a burden to my wife and child. It’s like, no, this isn’t good. And I told her. We were in Cleveland at my annual fundraiser for cancer research, and she goes, “What’s going on?” And I go, “I have a brain tumor.” I just said it ’cause there was no other way to do it, and she just took both my hands about her head and started to pray. It was easily I’d say the most powerful moment of my life because it was there that I realized you got to live it and you’ve got to have faith and you’ve got to understand that there’s a better way. That if he’s in it, you’re probably gonna be okay, no matter what. If he’s in it, you’re gonna be okay. So it was there that it was, and it was right after that I had the radiation, and it was right after that I got baptized. Tracy was gonna meet– She was taking my son Aiden, and they were gonna go meet some friends, and I was gonna go back and watch football. And she said, “How do you feel?”
Mark: Did you say, “About what?”
Scott: No, no, no. And she goes, “How do you feel?” And I just gave her a one word answer: “Lighter.”
Scott: Lighter. Lighter. I just felt like I wasn’t carrying around the burden of all the junk that I’d been forced to live with without baptism. Once you give it to Jesus, once you give it to the cross, my goodness, and you mean it, whew, you don’t have to carry that stuff around anymore. In fact, it’s almost sacrilegious to carry it around because you’ve given it to him. I meet people all the time that are suffering in their lives and suffering in their pasts and suffering, and I’m sure I could line up about 100 people out this door that say, “Here’s another bad thing that he did.” And it’s like, yeah, but I’m not him anymore. I’m not that guy. I want to be light. I want to be salt. I want to be who he always thought I could be. And that’s kind of the scriptural part of our message today is we are loved unconditionally and forever. Somebody told me the definition of the gospel was you are loved, now deal with it.
Mark: I love that.
Scott: But we always feel so lost and so smothered by the world and it’s like, no, no, no, we are loved unconditionally. Get to work. Now you do your part.
Mark: You’d have never met your wife, you’d have never had your children, and you’d probably never have met Jesus ’cause your wife really led you to the Lord kind of, right?
Scott: I know I would’ve been drawn to Jesus at some point–
Mark: He’d find you some way.
Scott: But it was in his timing, not mine, and it was beautiful, powerful, and amazing, and I’m really grateful for it, and I really– I try not to be kind of this scream at the top of my lungs at the secular world of skating, but I pray that what I’m doing in this world is appealing to people and that they might be a little more curious about how to find that joy and no matter what, how to find the joy. But I mean it is, it’s like that example like you said of the newspaper article, The New York Times article, about getting demoted, don’t feel sorry for me. Without Jesus, how would I have taken that news? When I get the first brain tumor and the second brain tumor and the third brain tumor, how would I have been without him? And my goodness, it has changed the trajectory of everything in the process because the promise of Jesus is this life will be a struggle, but the next one will be a lot better.
Andrew: I’ll be doing triple axels.
Scott: Oh, I don’t know, man. If I never skate again, that’s okay too. But give me a brand new body, and I’ll work that one out, we’ll see. Never say never.
Mark: I’d love a nose that comes to a point. I’ve always wanted that.
Andrew: We hope you’re around for a lot longer.
Scott: Oh, we’ll see, and if not–
Mark: I’ll see you at the house.
Mark: But you don’t want to get there till your mansion’s ready.
Mark: Well, if you want to finish first. Now my book, Finished Last, is coming out next year.
Scott: Not after you read that.
Mark: Get it, y’all, if you want to finish first.
Scott: I always joke that there’s constants in the universe right. Lyle Lovett said that his constant in the universe is that all women, given the opportunity, would rather eat outdoors. And mine is the music you listened to in high school will always be enjoyable for the rest of your life. And that all women hate their hair and want the rear end of a 5-year-old boy. It’s just the way it goes.
Andrew: I got to unpack that one.
Mark: Oh, Father in Heaven. How did that do? How’d that get high and lifted up?
Andrew: You need to go like this with it.
Andrew: Paula Trujillo with Learn to Skate at the Scott Hamilton Skating Academy. If you think you can’t do it, you can.
Mark: Well, I know you enjoyed that episode with Scott Hamilton.
Andrew: Yeah, what a great guy. His new book, Finish First, you can read it and you can buy it through our Amazon affiliate link in our episode description.
Mark: And if you want to binge watch all of Season Two of Dinner Conversations, you can do that right now on Amazon Prime.
Andrew: So thanks for watching Dinner Conversations with
Mark: Mark Lowry
Andrew: And Andrew Greer.
Mark: Turning the light on.
Andrew: One question at a time.
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S02, E01: A Change of Mind featuring Danny Gokey and Dr. Caroline Leaf
S02, E02: The Last Goodbye featuring Amy Grant
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S02, E04: Life After Divorce featuring Crystal Lewis
S02, E05: Place in this World featuring Michael W. Smith and Ginny Owens
S02, E06: God Is In The Details featuring Kathie Lee Gifford and Rabbi Jason Sobel