As the anniversary of her Olympic gold medal win approaches, Dorothy Hamill talks about life on and off the ice – including her battle with breast cancer

By Barbara Stepko
Updated January 15, 2016 05:05 PM
Dorothy Hamill
Credit: BeWisER+ About Breast Cancer Campaign

Decades before Serena Williams was firing off first serves and Lindsey Vonn was shushing down mountaintops, figure skater Dorothy Hamill was the biggest deal in women’s sports.

She captured the gold medal at the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, nearly 40 years ago, and became an overnight sensation. She went on to make a small fortune starring in Ice Capades and TV specials, land scores of endorsement deals, create a nationwide trend with her bouncy hairstyle and earn the title of “America’s Sweetheart.”

Today, Hamill, who turns 60 in July, lives a far quieter life in Indian Wells, California, with her husband, business executive John MacColl. (Hamill’s 27-year-old daughter, Alexandra Forsythe, from Hamill’s second marriage to Kenneth Forsythe, lives in Sacramento.)

Low-key seems to suit Hamill just fine.

“I try to seize every moment,” she says, “and just appreciate this incredible life I have.”

Hamill has reason to savor each day: She has been cancer-free for the past six years after being diagnosed in 2008. She says she has made it her mission to empower other women by helping to launch a national campaign called Be WisER+ About Breast Cancer.

“When you go through something terrible, you can think, ‘Why me?’ or you can learn and grow from the experience.”

Here are more lessons from her extraordinary life:

Play it forward
“Devastated” is how Hamill describes her reaction to her breast cancer diagnosis seven years ago. Still, she was determined to battle through it.

After undergoing surgery and radiation, Hamill decided take part in a study conducted at Johns Hopkins University’s Kimmel Cancer Center to measure the effectiveness of anti-estrogen therapies used to prevent breast cancer from returning – studies show that most cases of breast cancer require estrogen to grow.

“I’m a beneficiary of the research that’s been done, so I felt a responsibility to do what I could to make it easier for the next person,” she explains.

However, like many women, Hamill had a hard time dealing with the debilitating side effects.

“Between the hot flashes, achy joints and fatigue, there was no quality of life. There were also long-term health risks, such as heart disease and bone loss,” she says. “I talked to my doctor and determined the best thing would be to get off the medication. Now I want to make sure other women are aware that they may have options.”

To that end, Hamill is promoting Be WisER+ About Breast Cancer to help women with estrogen-related breast cancer learn about treatment-related side effects and find a personalized treatment plan that’s right for them.

Keep your kitchen stocked
Eating healthy has become more important than ever after Hamill’s bout with cancer. Open her fridge and you’ll find a colorful array of produce like broccoli, English cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes and Brussels sprouts – though she hasn’t sworn off protein-rich powerhouses like meat and chicken. Smart snacking (apple slices with almond butter are a fave) help ward off cravings.

“I go through phases when it comes to smoothies,” she says. “Sometimes they end up having more calories than a meal!”

Let Mother Nature be your fitness buddy
“Sometimes it’s hard to make that effort to get moving, but I know I feel better when I exercise,” says Hamill, who likes to take advantage of the Southern California scenery with a variety of outdoor activities, such as hiking and biking.

“We live in the desert, near Palm Springs, and there are nice trails and mountains. I also dabble at tennis. I m horrible, but I love it,” she said.

But, Hamill adds, nothing compares to skating: “Being on the ice that’s really my therapy, my escape. It never feels like a chore.”

Keep it covered
Hamill has aged as gracefully as she skates.

Sunscreen is a must, particularly with the desert sun. Another trick for keeping her skin firm: “When I want to pretend that I’m not 60 years old with wrinkly skin, I apply Crepe Erase on my arms and legs, so they don’t look quite so alligator-like.”

Embrace your inner child
You’re never too old to try something new – or fulfill a life-long dream.

“Years ago, when I was packing Alex’s stuff for camp, I thought, ‘Gosh, I want to go to summer camp!'” Hamill recalls.

Years later, she started an adult skating camp, where wannabe Hamills and Kwans can trade spins with former Olympians. “We just finished our eighth camp last November in Scottsdale, Arizona – a whole week of skating and dinners,” Hamill says. “We love it!”

Let it go
Over the years, Hamill has kept her pink skating dress from the Olympics in a box inside her closet, but she may soon part ways with that piece of memorabilia.

“[Former U.S. gold medalist and announcer] Dick Button has an incredible collection of skating paraphernalia and is trying to start a museum, so I’ve let him know he’s welcome to it,” she says. As for her trademark do, well, Hamill abandoned that years ago though fans haven’t forgotten the phenomenon, often telling her about their copy-cat looks.

“Yeah, that happens a lot,” says Hamill, with a good-natured smile. “I’m afraid so.”