Who is Tony Hoffman?
Tony Hoffman is a former BMX Elite Pro and BMX Olympic coach. It wasn’t always a smooth ride for him. When he started his BMX journey in the 7th grade, he was hurting inside. He hid the pain in middle and high school. He had anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. No one would have ever guessed because he was well known in the BMX community. Sophomore year of high school, he reached the expert level, in his junior year he signed a 3-year contract, and in his senior year, he was ranked #1 in the country.
His downward spiral
He felt empty. Senior year in high school, he started experimenting with the other kids. It started with just one drink and one puff of marijuana. Then he discovered pain medication. From that pain medication, his anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts went away. He was so addicted that in 2004, he committed a home invasion armed robbery to get a hold of prescription medicine. He got off with just probation.
That didn’t stop Tony Hoffman from using, and eventually, his parents kicked him out of his home. He was homeless for six months sleeping behind dumpsters, cheap motels, or crashing on people’s couches. One day, he broke into a “For Sale” home just to find somewhere to sleep. While the homeowners were showing their house, they found him on the ground with needles in his arms passed out while still on probation. He was sentenced to four years in prison.
In prison, he had a spiritual awakening and strengthened his faith. In prison he made 4 goals:
- Race BMX professionally,
- Make it to the Olympics
- Become a professional speaker
- Start a nonprofit organization
His guards and inmates thought he was crazy for making those goals. That didn’t stop him from pursuing it. He got to work. He worked out every day, even though he didn’t have a bike.
Tony Hoffman got out after two years instead of lasting all four years in prison. As soon as he got out, he got to work. He started winning many races and was close to making it to the Olympics when he blew his knee. His professional career was done. Tony Hoffman had to find a way to reinvent himself. His speaking career and nonprofit organization, The FreeWheel Project was not taking off.
In 2012, he started coaching BMX. At the beginning of his coaching career, nobody wanted to be coached by him. In 2016, he had 3 national championships, 2 world champions, and 25 athletes under him from all over the world. In 2016, he got a phone call from his top female athlete, Brooke Crain. She said, “Pack your bags; you are heading to the Olympics.” He went to the Olympics as a BMX coach.
Tony Hoffman’s speaking career started taking off, speaking to hundreds of schools and companies worldwide. His nonprofit also started taking off where he mentors thousands of youth through action sports.
The lessons I have learned from interviewing Tony Hoffman
Tony Hoffman was one of my favorite interviews. Here are three lessons I have learned:
- Pursue your gift, not your passion. Tony didn’t always like or appreciate BMX racing. He wanted to be a normal kid. He didn’t realize by getting involved with drugs and alcohol; he was throwing away his gift. You may not like your gift all the time, but you must learn to appreciate it. When we try to force to be good at something we are not meant to be good at, we may be decent at that one activity, but you may never be spectacular at it. Find the one thing you lose track of time doing. If you don’t know what that thing is, start experimenting with different activities. Eventually, something will stick.
- If you feel unbearable pressure to the point where you have bad anxiety to perform at your sport or a particular task, talk to your coach or mentor. I have interviewed several former professional athletes. Many of them, who were professional at a young age, had unbearable anxiety. This self-inflicted pressure can lead to depression and suicidal thoughts. By talking to an adult, they will help you get the help you need or may help you walk through that pressure, so you are not doing it alone. The support can lead you to ask yourself some tough questions to help you get to the root cause of your problem.
- Do the core work every day that most people don’t want to do so you can live the life most people are not living. When Tony Hoffman was in prison, he didn’t have a bike, but he did have discipline. Every day he brushed his teeth, made his bed, and organized his room like he was training for the Olympics. Tony Hoffman worked out even if it was scorching hot or snowing outside. He taught his mind to do challenging activities during stressful situations.
We are all facing some difficulty in our life. Some of us were dealt the wrong cards. Tony had a major addiction that led him to be homeless and in prison. He found his way around to become the person he is today. Whatever struggle you are facing, you can bounce back and find your way. Open up to people about what you are facing, find your gift to pursue, and do the core work every day. Eventually, you will find your way.