HERMOSA BEACH, Ca. — There was a fun story emerging a few weeks ago at the AVP Hermosa Beach Pro Series, a couple of good friends, winning matches they shouldn’t, in a unique style of play that, against all odds, continued to befuddle. We were intriguing to watch and easy to root for, JD Hamilton and I, a couple of tattooed underdogs. A team with no expectations, a writer and a redneck, playing on house money.
It was, on the surface, the classic story of the overlooked team overperforming. That’s the story many asked me to write after our weekend concluded on July 8, a seventh-place finish and two highly unlikely — to most, anyway — upsets in hand. But the story is deeper than that. Leagues and miles and lightyears deeper. A story replete with drugs and murder, of persistent demons and timely angels, of repeat failure and a stubborn streak to break a wicked cycle of evil and addiction. It’s a story both tragic and heroic, as remarkable as it is heartbreaking.
It’s the untold story of JD Hamilton.
Angels, demons, drugs and alligators
“Man, my heart is beating pretty fast,” JD says over the phone. “I’m going to need to breathe through this.”
It’s Monday afternoon. I’m in my office in Hermosa Beach. JD is in Mobile, Alabama, the most unlikely of residencies for a 30-year-old who just finished seventh in the country in a professional beach volleyball tournament. It’s fitting he’s speaking from Mobile. It is both where his life began and where it could have ended, both literally and figuratively, or at least come unraveled to the point beyond fixing.
In a literal sense, it could have ended in any number of ways that would seem impossible, borderline fictional, to his peers today, many of whom hail from wealthy, affluent, and well-educated families in Southern California. Could have ended on any of his walks by himself to Kindergarten at Mary B. Austin Elementary School. He doesn’t know how far that walk was. Maybe a mile. Maybe shorter or longer. Regardless of the length, it was, JD says, “not a walk that kids should be taking.” Yet it was a walk that, should JD have any designs on getting an education, he would have to take. On his own, and on his own volition.
His dad, John, was out of town for two weeks at a time, working as a plumber. He’d pop in on the weekends before he’d have to leave again, gone for another half-month….