10 questions with an alumna on the move
(expanded from the Summer 2011 edition of Badger Insider Magazine)
Though most Badgers know Suzy Favor Hamilton ’91 as a champion distance runner, she’s now setting goals as a recreational running coach and motivational speaker, drawing from her life experiences, challenges, and disappointments as a high-profile athlete. The three-time Olympian and her husband Mark Hamilton ’91 also run a successful real estate business in the Madison area with First Weber Group.
You have a five-year-old daughter. If she said her goal was to run in the Olympics, what would you tell her?
I’d say, if that’s what you really want, but don’t do it because your mom did it. You might run around the block and hate it.
What’s your average day like?
I get Kylie to school by 8:00, and then I head to the office, but not for long. When I’m in the office, I’m not happy. I’d rather be out and about, staging a house or getting new listings, meeting for lunch, and social networking. The best part of our day is when [Mark and I] pick Kylie up from school and we go somewhere like gymnastics practice. Sometimes our clients need to meet at night, and we try to work it out so it doesn’t compete with family life.
My motivational speaking has also really taken off recently. I’ve been in five states in the past two weeks. I usually do three or four speaking engagements each month, and I try to stagger them.
How do you market yourself and your work?
The Internet, and it’s a huge bonus knowing so many people.
What’s it like to work with your husband?
I’m a mile-a-minute, and Mark is super calm and reserved. We’re a good team.
How did you meet?
On a blind date freshman year — he was on the UW baseball team, and I was on the track team, and a friend set us up. We celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary on May 25 by jumping out of an airplane. For me, it was about conquering my fears and continuing to grow, which is part of my mission. I thought I would scream, but it was an amazing experience. I would do it again in a second.
What’s your favorite part of your work?
I like the staging and photography part of real estate — I was an art major at Wisconsin. With motivational speaking, I love seeing the audience leave more upbeat. I end each talk with a “four-minute mile” when I ask the whole room to jump and raise the roof to some really funky music. To be successful in anything, you have to let the ego go.
If someone said to me, here’s a gold medal from the Sydney Olympics, I’d say, forget it. I’d rather take this journey to be where I am right now.
A few years ago, you realized you consciously chose to fall at the  Sydney Olympics and spoke publican about it. Describe that time in your life.
After Kylie was born in 2005, my doctor said I had post-partum depression. I think it was more than that. Running was a great cover-up. I ran every day, and it was my drug. After I had Kylie, I stopped running and I had no drug. We were moving and selling real estate and the university hired me to sell advertising. I was trying to be Superwoman. The stress was too much, and I got darker and darker. I stopped eating. All I wanted to do was sleep. I was pulling back from people, and that’s not like me. I’m a people person.
What did you do to get where you are today?
I realized I had to get help. My therapist, Dr. Rachel Heilizer — please, mention her name — saved my life. It took eight months of therapy to get out of the dark place. There’s still a stigma with depression and mental illness, and it affects so many women. When I work with corporations, I’m seeing a shift in the younger generation. They’re speaking out, and I’m so excited about that, about lifting the stigma. It’s the most rewarding part about public speaking — helping women to get off the couch and take that first step.
How do you deal with the pressure of people’s expectations of you?
I’ve been carrying a lot with me my entire life. I was driven by one thing: to run fast. And I felt an overwhelming pressure to succeed. College was difficult for me. That was one of the reasons I was attracted to Mark. He was a mature kid, and that was appealing to me. He took care of me. After falling eleven years ago, I carried that with me. I had to get to my lowest point before I got help.
I admire your ability to put it out there.
I’m an open book. This is what I speak about — I have no problem sharing. I’ve gone through such a transformation through my public speaking, and living an authentic life is so freeing. Five years ago, I couldn’t have jumped out of that airplane. No way. My life has changed so much in five years.