Addiction, prison, and even a career-ending knee injury couldn’t keep this BMX Pro from making the Olympics. Here’s what speaker and recovery expert Tony Hoffman has learned about responding to twists in fate.
It’s the 2011 Disney Cup Fall Nationals. The absolute best of the BMX world have gathered in Orlando.
The Latvian Māris Štrombergs and Australian Sam Willoughby – who will go on to claim Olympic gold and silver (respectively) the following year – are just a couple of the legendary racers an ecstatic Florida crowd has come out to see. It’s been a weekend of star-studded Pro UCI action.
Waiting at the starting gate, amongst this pantheon of BMX greatness, is a man with his own goals of making the Olympics. What sets this guy apart from the rest? He’s Tony Hoffman. He declared this dream while serving time in prison.
Hoffman is now a globally-known speaker, author, and recovery expert. He’s also the co-founder of pH Wellness, the drug and alcohol rehabilitation center that’s making massive strides in Southern California. But there was a time when he was a man racing against his own addiction. Neck-and-neck with cocaine and prescription painkillers, the finish line would be a two-year sentence that changed his life forever.
“The day I was arrested,” Hoffman recalls, “as I was sitting in the back of the car, I felt this peace, like everything was going to be alright. All I knew was I had to find the reason this had happened.”
This desire to find purpose would be the start of Hoffman’s miraculous recovery – and the spark that would light a transformation that has since inspired thousands. It was a spiritual experience of faith, the presence of mentors like inmate Toby Wade, and a burning passion for BMX, that gave Hoffman a reason to be in prison. He knew that if he was willing to face his obstacles, the track ahead would lead to greatness.
It was there, as Hoffman shares in his viral TedTalk, that he vowed he would make it to the Olympics, as well as become a speaker and start a non-profit initiative for youth. Having unshakable faith in the Biblical promise that “To those who have, more will be given,” he started small, brushing his teeth like it was an Olympic sport, and worked his way up from there.
Two years later, having paid his debt to society, Hoffman returned to BMX: the sport of his youth. “I’m lucky,” he says, “a lot of sports don’t let people come back from something like that. But the community accepted me with open arms.”
Proof that more will be given, this was around the time that Hoffman began his speaking career and launched the Freewheel Project: which offered action sport camps and more to at-risk youth.
The Olympic dream would prove the tallest mountain for Hoffman to climb, but his 2009 debut back into the BMX scene was unprecedented, considering he hadn’t rode in seven years. Yeah, it’s true you never forget how to ride a bike, but doing it professionally is a whole different beast.
Hoffman’s ascension was lining up perfectly for the 2012 summer Olympics. At the stage the inmate turned BMX pro was at in his life and career, it was London or bust. So it seemed.
The road to those London games went through Orlando, Florida. This takes us back to October 2011: the Disney Cup Fall Nationals.
The gate drops. Hoffman is off to a great start. Over the first two obstacles, it becomes clear that this is either his or BMX superstar David Herman’s race to win. Herman, who will go on to be the US’ top BMX athlete at the London games, is neck-and-neck with Hoffman, who’s having the best run of his life.
This is a chance for Hoffman to make the podium. How many more people would find resonance in his story if he could overcome the odds and win first?
Herman gets squirly going over a jump. Tangled with him, Hoffman puts his foot out as he hits the ground.
Hoffman gets up, but immediately falls over. Struggling to even stand, he gets back on the bike and finishes the race, hoping the pain he felt wasn’t as bad as he thought, allowing him to return for the next round of races. But there was a different destiny for Hoffman.
This accident would damage his knee and mark the end of his career as a BMX racer.
The story should end there, right?
But if Tony Hoffman could find purpose in going to prison – surely there was a reason why God changed his course that fateful day in Orlando.
“I had to figure out why that happened,” he recalls, “and discover this was where I was meant to be.”
Things don’t often go as planned – there’s a whole lot of power in how you choose to react to these twists and turns on the track. Hoffman relates it to having a bad start out of the gate.
“You don’t need your best gate start,” he says. “You don’t need to get over this jump perfectly. You need to be willing to let the race come to you as you’re doing it and make a decision while you’re there.”
With advice like that, it’s no wonder Hoffman quickly was asked to become a BMX coach, an Olympic level coach at that. Standing in the corner of Elite Women’s pro Brooke Crain at the Rio Games, Hoffman won the race he set out for so many years earlier.
From those struggling with addiction, to anyone who has felt like they’ve been thrown off the path towards their dreams, Hoffman has a story that resonates. It’s this experience that has allowed him to connect with and impact the thousands of people that he has reached.
He’s not done, either, evidenced in the recent founding of pH Wellness, the drug and alcohol rehabilitation center that Hoffman has developed alongside the famous IronMan Mathew Paz.
Could your corporation, school, or organization get something out of a story like this? Check out Tony Hoffman’s website to get all the wisdom that this incredible experience continues to offer.