Visiting 3-Time Olympian & Mental Health Advocate Suzy Favor Hamilton: California Part I

Having read Suzy Favor Hamilton’s book Fast Girl: A Life Spent Running From Madness, I was not only intrigued with her bipolar disorder experience (and her “secret” escort job that soon followed), but also the eating disorder she discusses at the beginning of the book. With that in mind, I sent out a simple tweet asking for an interview.

One informative interview, an endorsement quote for Running in Silence, and another phone call later, I found myself scheduling a trip to stay with Suzy in Los Angeles.
“You absolutely have to visit!” she had urged me during our second phone conversation. And who would refuse a trip to Manhattan Beach?
The moment I walked into Suzy’s home on January 11, 2017, I realized how tall I am in comparison to Suzy. But packed in that small frame was a young heart full of life and energy. After showing me to my guest room, we immediately began talking, catching up (since our phone talks), and asking each other questions about our journeys through mental illness. It was interesting finding similarities in bipolar disorder with eating disorders (and how they sometimes overlap—see Wasted and Madness by Marya Hornbacher for examples). We of course touched on my experience with 30 Bananas a Day, and soon afterward decided that dinner that night would be hamburgers. : )

After I made myself at home, Suzy and I went for a sunset run on the beach. “I run nice and easy,” Suzy said, but coming from 3-time Olympian that wasn’t exactly reassuring. Turns out, the pace was very comfortable, and the run itself was all about fun and adventure. It was exactly the kind of running we both enjoy at this point in our lives.
Suzy showed me all around Manhattan beach; we ran on the boardwalk lining large, million-dollar mansions, and circled the pier. Suzy insisted we take pictures at each photogenic spot, and her keen eye for a good picture made me realize why she had been an Art Major.

I enjoyed laughing with Suzy, loved seeing her joy for life. We couldn’t stop asking each other questions while we ran, couldn’t stop agreeing with what the other had to say. When Suzy asked about my future writing endeavors, I talked about the second book that I’ve written, which at this point only needs revision and editing. The book is all about breakage–breaking my kneecap while running, breaking away from running, the breakdown of what it takes to build a new life when it seems like everything has fallen apart–something Suzy knows about all-too-well.
“I’m looking forward to reading it,” Suzy said. We certainly related on the runner-as-sole-identity struggle, and how we are so much happier finding who we are beyond that identity. This has become a big discussion I seem to be having with more and more runners, include Megan Flanagan of Strong Runner Chicks (check out, and of course USE the hashtag #MoreThanaRunner).

Suzy and I couldn’t seem to stop talking and relating. It felt great to speak with passion, to have someone else understand, and to listen to Suzy’s own experiences and bumps in the road even now–especially with some of the community finding it difficult to understand her story. Thus, the topic of sex entered the equation the second night when we went out for sushi.
“People don’t want to talk about sex, but the reality is, 50% of those with bipolar disorder deal with hyper-sexuality,” Suzy said, speaking on her past experiences as a Las Vegas escort. I loved that Suzy was so open to talking about this, and she urges the mental health community to be open about it as well.

Suzy and I often talked about how like bingeing, and having that uncontrollable desire for food, Suzy had this uncontrollable desire to feed her mania. It takes over—making you put the disorder before friends and family. It doesn’t make it right of course, but that’s the tremendous power it has over people who suffer. And having gone through my eating disorder to the extent that I have, I somewhat understand or can empathize what drove Suzy in her mania.
Suzy and I touched on what makes it so difficult for people to understand why Suzy would do something so “bizarre” when she was in the depths of her mania. The reality is, it’s so “bizarre” because it stems from a mental illness.
As Suzy and I walked back from the grocery store after our sushi dinner, I couldn’t help but feel at peace. Our stories were certainly not mirror images, but we were able to relate in some areas, and understand or sympathize and empathize. It makes me realize how so many of us can relate to each other if we are willing to be open and find those connections or paths to understanding.

Stay tuned for Part II of my trip to California!

About Rachael

Rachael Steil is a graduate from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan with a Bachelor of Arts. Steil an author, speaker, and a recipient of the Spirit and Outstanding Runner award for the Aquinas College cross country team and has received 6th place All-American accolades in cross country as well as 7th place in the NAIA track nationals.
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