If you have been watching the Winter Olympics games you will know that last night kicked-off the women's figure skating competition to crown the best amateur ranked female figure skater in the world. And as I watched these beautiful skaters on the ice doing their triple toe loops and incredible spins, I couldn't help but to think back 38 years to the winter games in Innsbruck Austria when 19 year old Dorothy Hamill skated her way to the gold medal and into the hearts of America.
You see in 1976 I was only 14 years old and at the time going through chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. I was a freshman in High School that winter and was just diagnosed with cancer in August of the previous year. If you can, imagine how my parents dealt with this because I certainly can't. In addition to surgery there were two different drug therapies available for me at that time...the first one was one drug injection a week for 10 weeks in a row...this made me loose all my hair. The second drug was given over a 5 day period every three months and it was this drug which caused immeasurable vomiting.
So in February of 1976 I had to take the second round of the what I then called...the "throw-up" drug. I remember lying in my parents bed watching their little 13 inch TV as Dorothy Hamill skated her beautiful short program. I remember thinking not only how perfect her skating was, but how perfect in fact she was. Her skin was flawless, unlike mine which was gaunt from numerous trips to the porcelain throne, and had little bumps all over from the chemo. Her eyes were bright and she was so strong, while mine were tired and my 5'7" 118 lb frame had dwindled down to 107 lbs. And her fabulous hair...the style which swept a nation was incredible....my hair, well there just wasn't any.
But despite the very different worlds we were in, I found a connection with Dorothy.
Dorothy gave me something else to focus on aside from my own pathetic situation. She gave me the chance to cheer for her, to be in her corner and to let her win my heart. I remember watching intently when she skated her long program. I watched every move in complete awe of her beautiful talent. I had never seen anything so graceful yet athletic in my entire life. As a matter of fact I watched her long program performance so many times in newscasts that I was able to see the entire program in my mind whenever I wanted. Dorothy's skate for the gold got me through one of the most physically challenging times of my life. I didn't realized it then but in looking back, Dorothy Hamill was one of my very first heroes!
Now flash forward to 2010. My brother-in-law Charlie had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in January of that year. Ironically enough, through my high school reunion committee I became friends with a gal who was one of the chairpersons for the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life in a town local to where my sister Kim and Charlie lived. So Kim and I organized our own team for that year...team Charlie Brown. Really...my BIL was the original Charlie Brown!
Anyhow, through my friend I found out that Dorothy had ties to the same community as the Relay she was chairing, and that Dorothy herself made an appearance the previous year at Relay. (If you didn't know Dorothy was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008) When I found this out I emailed my friend and told her how much I loved Dorothy and how she got me through chemotherapy all those years ago with her skating. I think I wrote something like " Dorothy will never know how much she meant to a little girl in Glenside Pa, who was going through her own personal battle with cancer."
Then my friend totally blind sided me and asked if she could share my email with Dorothy.
I was in shock!
Completely flabbergasted I replied "Of course you can"!!! And she did!!! Now it has been 4 years since that all transpired but I will never forget my excitement of having the knowledge that Dorothy was now aware of how important her skating was to me all those years ago. I know Dorothy did reply to my friend's email, unfortunately I can't remember exactly what her words were. But they were something to the effect that you never know how you might impact another person's life and that it meant a lot to her to know her skating helped me through such a difficult time in my life.
So tonight when these amazing skaters hit the ice in their free style programs, I hope if somewhere there is a little girl who may be going through a difficult time of her own, that watching these incredible skaters might in some way unburden her if for just a few minutes, and give her something to cheer for and remember.
Thank you Dorothy!!!