Suzy Favor Hamilton was such a Midwestern sports icon the Big Ten's female athlete of the year award is named for the former Wisconsin runner.
That image is in stunning contrast with Hamilton's admission that she has spent parts of the last year as a $600-per-hour call girl.
In a story first reported by thesmokinggun.com and on her Twitter feed, Hamilton took full responsibility for what she called "a huge mistake." She said depression had contributed to her decision to work for a Las Vegas-based escort service.
The Smoking Gun story recounts how Hamilton, a three-time Olympian, nine-time NCAA champion and three-time Big Ten female athlete of the year, was leading a dual life: Mother, wife, motivational speaker, sponsor representative and realtor based in Madison, Wis.; call girl in Las Vegas, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston and other cities.
"I do not expect people to understand, but the reasons for doing this made sense to me at the time and were very much related to depression," Hamilton tweeted Thursday.
"I cannot emphasize enough how sorry I am to anyone I have hurt as a result of my actions and greatly appreciate the support from family and those closest to me. I fully intend to make amends and get back to being a good mother, wife, daughter, and friend."
Hamilton said she has been seeking help from a psychologist.
Known as "Kelly" on the website of the escort service for which she worked since last December, Hamilton told the Smoking Gun she suspected a client revealed who she was despite efforts that often seemed halfhearted to protect her identity. According to Smoking Gun, one of her escort service clients offered a reporter money to prevent the story from getting out.
Hamilton, 44, who grew up in Stevens Point, Wis., once was the glamour girl of track and field. The escort service's website advertised her in a variety of revealing photographs with her back to the camera or her face blurred.
Hamilton said in the story her husband, Mark, knew of her escort work and tried vainly to get her to stop.
"I realize I have made highly irrational choices and I take full responsibility for them," Hamilton tweeted. "I am not a victim here and knew what I was doing.
"I was drawn to escorting in large part because it provided many coping mechanisms for me when I was going through a very challenging time with my marriage and my life. It provided an escape from a life that I was struggling in. It was a double life."
Until now, the most dramatic public moment of Hamilton's life was her tumble to the track with 70 meters to go in the 1,500-meter final at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. She had led with 130 meters left but wound up walking to the finish and left the stadium in a wheelchair.
At the time, she attributed the fall to dehydration from medicine she was taking for a hamstring injury. A year later, Hamilton said she fell on purpose after a panic attack caused by self-imposed pressure to win for her brother, who had committed suicide in 1999.
Thursday's startling revelations already have cost her one commercial deal.
The Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series said it was ending its relationship with Hamilton.