The same tough spirit that led him to win a gold medal has helped Hamilton, 52, overcome a difficult medical crisis – undergoing brain surgery to remove a tumor and later having a brain aneurysm removed.
"This," says Hamilton, tongue firmly planted in cheek, "was not the way to spend your summer vacation."
During the removal of Hamilton's benign brain tumor last June in Boston, an artery was nicked during surgery. Doctors stopped the bleeding and removed the tumor, but an aneurysm formed days later.
"I tried to stay positive through all this," says Hamilton, who years ago overcame testicular cancer and a pituitary gland tumor. "But in back of my mind, I felt, 'I'm getting knocked down and I'm not sure if I can get back up.' "
The aneurysm was successfully removed through a non-invasive procedure at the Cleveland Clinic, but Hamilton suffered the loss of two-thirds of the vision in his right eye – a known risk of the surgery.
Getting By with Help from FriendsWith prayers and care from his wife Tracie ("Scott was amazing through all of this; I've never seen him so strong") and a group of close-knit friends and family, Hamilton has weathered this latest storm.
"He looks strong now and he's got his wicked sense of humor back," says singer Sheryl Crow, a Nashville pal who visited Hamilton in the hospital.
Another friend, country star Brad Paisley and his actress wife, Kim Williams-Paisley, cut short their European vacation to visit Scott at his bedside. Hamilton, always the prankster, greeted the couple with a bandage around his head soaked in ketchup. "I got him," says Hamilton with a laugh.
The skater, who is back home with his family in Franklin, Tenn., is now getting back to normal life, and recently raised $1.1 million for cancer research at his annual Scott Hamilton CARES Initiative fundraiser on Nov. 6.
Says Paisley: "He's a hero to me in the way he handles adversity and his positive outlook on life, no matter the circumstances."
For more on Hamilton's surgery and successful recovery, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands now