Since her double life as a high-priced Las Vegas prostitute became public in 2012, former UW-Madison track star Suzy Favor Hamilton has kept a low profile, avoiding the public appearances that once dominated her schedule.
The three-time Olympian is putting herself back in the public eye as she promotes her new memoir, “Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running From Madness,” written with Sarah Tomlinson. The book came out Monday.
In it, the former Madison athlete, mother, and real estate agent details her yearlong secret life where she became “Kelly,” a $600-an-hour call girl in Vegas.
The Stevens Point native also discusses her brother’s bipolar disorder that resulted in his suicide and her own undiagnosed bipolar disease that made her crave more adventure and excitement. Once called manic depression, bipolar disorder causes extreme mood swings with emotional, manic highs and depressed lows.
No part of Favor Hamilton’s life gets glossed over in the book, including her intentional fall during the 1,500-meter race in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, when it became clear she would not win.
In a 45-minute phone conversation Wednesday with the State Journal, Favor Hamilton, 47, said she might still be working the luxury hotels in Vegas had a regular client not leaked her identity to The Smoking Gun website. As devastating as the revelation was, she said it led her to better medication to treat her illness.
Wisconsin State Journal: The book is so breezy, engaging and titillating. Seems like it could be the next “Fifty Shades of Grey,” but a nonfiction one.
Suzy Favor Hamilton: It is what I was doing, so I can’t avoid it. But it also shows that in my state of mind that was completely normal. I was so completely out of control because nothing seemed to faze me. So the reason that I talk about it is to truly show the illness. Because I know other people are going through bizarre behaviors where maybe somebody is just throwing them out and not even considering that there could be a mental illness with it.
WSJ: Are people accepting that your bipolar led to this hypersexuality?
SFH: That’s the hard part for people to understand. How can that be a mental illness? And if I explain it like that, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense, but if I let people know that two months before that even happened, I was given the drug Zoloft and that brings on the hypersexuality, that particular anti-depressant. We all know that anti-depressants can do crazy things to people.
[Editor’s note: Hypersexuality is not listed as a side effect of Zoloft in the drug’s federal Food and Drug Administration approved medication guide. Manic episodes, which could include reckless behavior, are listed in the guide.]
WSJ: So basically, in the book you’re saying that the whole time you spent living the escort life in Las Vegas is all explained by the undiagnosed bipolar disorder?
SFH: No, I can’t say that the bipolar is to blame because I knew what I was doing. I can say that the Zoloft triggered the hypersexuality. And when I found (prostitution) for that first time, I knew that the feeling was incredible and wanted to continue doing more. When the bipolar and the Zoloft are mixed together, that’s a double whammy.
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WSJ: Part of the bipolar had you becoming delusional, where you weren’t thinking straight?
SFH: Sometimes people even have hallucinations. But I lost touch with reality in that I lost touch with being a mother, being a wife. None of that existed. That world seemed completely normal to me. And looking back, I see that to the reader, this must seem so bizarre.
WSJ: And you are hearing from readers that there is too much sex in the book?
SFH: People will ask, “Well, why do you have to write about the sex so much?” The reason for that is just to show the destruction of the disease and the illness and show how it ruins lives and tears marriages apart. It tears relationships apart. And if people don’t want to read that, they should know ahead of time that that is in the book, like you said, the “Fifty Shades of Grey.” This book is not for children. That’s for sure.
WSJ: I’m wondering about your daughter Kylie, who is about to turn 10. What does she know about the book and about this whole secret life?
SFH: She was 7 when this all happened. And my husband is just amazing. He knew how to explain it. We did have therapy and counseling on how to talk to my daughter. But before the counseling he told her that ‘You know this isn’t your mommy. You know that her behavior and the way she’s acting is not right. We know something is wrong with her brain.” He explained it that “she has a disease with her brain. Just like cancer, but this is with the brain.” ... I would say (my daughter) knows more about bipolar and mental illness than 99 percent of adults. She’s just so compassionate and we talk freely about it because we want her to be educated through us, not somebody at school. And she understands it’s a disease and an illness. And just think if more of the haters in our world could understand that, more of the people that place stigma on mental illness, lives could be saved, less shame.
WSJ: And I think a lot of people are just really amazed that your husband, Mark, has stayed with you through all of this. And there are times in the book that you say you are surprised he didn’t force you to stop.
SFH: He really tried. He looks back on it with so much regret that he didn’t do more. It was hard because he saw his wife happy, meaning I was manic, and it was much easier to deal with that person than the depressed person. He wishes so badly that he would have done more. I always tell him, “You’re the hero.” And he’s like, “I don’t believe I am the hero. I didn’t do enough.” And at the time things weren’t going good with our marriage, so it was easier for him to let this open relationship develop — obviously on my end. But the great thing about it is, once the illness was diagnosed after I was outed, he chose — which is incredible — to focus on the disease, not the behavior. And he’s really changing lives by that one act.
WSJ: Do you have a home in Madison still?
SFH: We sold our house. We might get a condo... because my husband still works in Madison. He’s teamed up with someone at First Weber and flies back and forth for his real estate business. It’s very admirable for my husband to move out to California where he knows the environment is better for my bipolar.
WSJ: Is that the main reason you left Madison for Los Angeles?
SFH: I never wanted to run away from Madison and I’m not running away now. We have so many wonderful friends who have stepped up through all of this. I want to be able to still say that Madison is a part of my home. I was born in Wisconsin. My daughter was born in Madison. We love it there, but for my bipolar the winters are too difficult. I need to be out exercising, that’s my No. 1 vice to make me stable. And the ocean has always been therapy for me.
WSJ: Are you going to go back into real estate or do you think the money from the book is going to set you up for life?
SFH: The book was never meant for the money and my husband is the one who is working for us. For me, it is very difficult to have a job with my bipolar. And my love is exercise so I will be personal training on the side. MyNo. 1 focus is being a mom.