But I guess at a certain point, famous people are reduced to simple narratives. This is the price of fame.
Before you read this, I'd encourage you to read this piece written by Brooks Johnson, "But for the gRACE OF GOD." He actually knew Suzy as a person and athlete.
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"Fear? If I have gained anything at all by damning myself, it is that I no longer have anything to fear."
--J. P. Sartre
Can you imagine what it takes to be the top runner in the country? To stand on the line and beat all comers? To not just be good, but to be the best? What would it take?
Imagine having that sort of power in your body. Imagine having that sort of power in your mind. And knowing, some day -- any day -- you will lose it.
How would it feel?
I think it would feel like standing on the edge of a cliff and throwing yourself out into space, over and over again. It would feel like having everything to lose, and not being afraid of losing it.
What would you have to do in training to convince yourself that you deserved that type of talent? What sort of psychological walls would you have to build to maintain that position?
I think these are the sorts of questions we have to ask when we examine the situation of Suzy Favor Hamilton. She built a career out on the edge, going places and doing things that simply cannot be comprehended by ordinary folks.
Distance runners are a compulsive lot. We are driven by forces that often seem larger than we are. These forces make us want to suffer; they make us want to train; they make us want to win. In Susy Favor Hamilton, these forces were really, really large.
So, imagine that you had built a life that was modeled around and based on these forces, on giving into them, on letting them drive you in training and racing to the places that few have gone. Not only were you brave enough to acknowledge them, you were brave enough to let them overcome you and thereby make you great. And then, one day it was over, and all that was left for you was a life without those forces. A normal life, with normal responsibilities.
Can you just turn the switch off?
If Suzy had been able to turn the switch off, could she have done what she did?
I know that this line of thought romanticizes the choices that she made, to some extent, just as we often romanticize mental illness. And we have examples of great athletes, even runners, who seem capable of embracing normal life. But there have been quite a few who struggled with the normal perhaps because they had touched something else, or perhaps because they simply weren't normal and couldn't be normal: Henry Rono, Gerry Lindgren, perhaps even Prefontaine...
So, after her running career was over, Suzy Favor Hamilton made a choice that she has admitted was irresponsible. She took her body and once again made it into an object of power and fascination and risk and great feeling.
She gave herself over again to the forces, the large forces. This is always irresponsible. It's also what is required to be great. The leap to this kind of greatness is profound. We should not be surprised that some athletes have a tough time crossing the chasm back to normality; I imagine it takes just as much effort and patience and will that it took to cross the chasm the first time -- and the only reward is a life like everyone else's.
Everyone else is now happy to judge Suzy because they of course would never do such a thing. Such a thing would never cross their minds, actually.
And that probably has a lot to do with why they are everyone else.