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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Fast Girl: Olympic Runner Turned Vegas Call-Girl

This book is absolutely bonkers! It has everything: sports and sex, mental health issues and marital stress, and salacious details about the seedy underbelly of the seediest city in the US: Las Vegas. I'm late to this book (and apparently a lot of people know this story, so forgive my wide-eyed fascination) — it came out in 2015 — but I'm sure glad I found it now, because I was absolutely riveted. I could not put it down. It's such a fascinating, sad, infuriating, hopeful, but ultimately brave story.

Fast Girl (terrific title, too!) is Suzy Favor Hamilton's memoir about her success as a runner, her struggle with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, and her time as a high-priced Las Vegas escort. And again, regarding the latter, there is no skimping on details.

Favor Hamilton grew up in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and went to the University of Wisconsin, a highly sought-after middle-distance runner. She was a superstar as Badger, shattering records, winning NCAA championships, and launching an extremely promising running career. But all the while, she suffered from a crushing anxiety, afraid she'd let down her family and friends if she failed. She also developed an eating disorder and suffered from body-image issues — she never felt like she "looked" like a runner, and even though she almost never lost, that affected her self-esteem, even as a top-tier athlete.

At Wisconsin, she also meets her husband, Mark Hamilton, who she marries soon after graduation. With her all-American good looks and bubbly personality, she earns several lucrative endorsements as a professional runner (probably most recognizably a famous 2000 Nike commercial), and makes the Olympics in 1992, 1996, and 2000. The mile race in 2000 in Sydney is sort of the turning point of her career. In her first two Olympics, she'd hadn't qualified for a final, but in 2000, she's the favorite in the mile. And in the final, she's leading a good part of the race, including around the last turn...but then she just collapses. Literally. A runner passes her, then another, and she just goes down. She admits for the first time in this book she wasn't injured. She did it on purpose because she realized she wouldn't win. You can watch the race here. It's so heart-breaking.

But that's only about the third-most shocking revelation in this memoir. After the Olympics, she returns to Wisconsin with her husband, hangs on for a few more years as a professional runner, but then retires. She and her husband have a child, start a real estate company, and settle into normal life.

But she hates it, this normal life, and she continues to struggle with what she thinks is depression, even threatening suicide more than once. Her life and her marriage are miserable and unravelling quickly, and something has to change. So for their 20th wedding anniversary, hoping to spice things up, she suggests a trip to Vegas, complete with skydiving...and wait for it...a threesome with a female escort!

It's amazing! The best experience of her life! And she realizes she needs more like that — she returns to Vegas several more times by herself, always with her husband's blessing, for weekend trysts. Soon, she realizes it'd be much better to actually get paid for sex, rather than paying for sex or picking up strangers at bars. So she hooks up with an escort service, learns her craft, and quickly rises to the second-most in-demand call-girl in Las Vegas.

All the while — and again, she's not hiding any of this from Mark, keeping him in the loop with his tacit approval — she and Mark's biggest fear is that someone will find out who she really is, and it'll blow up their quiet Wisconsin lives. She's living this double-life and mostly keeping her real life as a former pro runner, wife, mother, and motivational speaker separate from her life of thousand-dollar meals and gifts as a call girl. But, inevitably, it all comes crashing down in spectacular fashion.

Not long after she's outed, she's finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Her life as the call girl was her manic high, and her back-home life in Wisconsin was her depressed low. She is able to finally get treatment with therapy and pharmaceuticals, and though it wasn't easy, she's been able to maintain a modicum of health. These days, she is still doing motivational speaking gigs about mental health and living in California with her husband (who amazingly has stuck by her through all this).

I read this in just a few sittings — it's a book I couldn't stop thinking about when I wasn't reading, and never wanted to stop reading when I was. Frankly, the writing here isn't terrific, but it wasn't bad enough to distract me from how amazing this story is. If you already know her story, but haven't read this book, you have to. It's amazing. I picked this up because I was desperate for a running book, and it is that partially, but I was just floored to learn how much more there is here. Amazing.

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