Recovering addict shares story with local teens

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Recovering addict shares story with local teensTony Hoffman addresses the student body of Murray Middle School — the last of three presentations that were given to all middle- and high-schoolers in the district — Photo by Laura Austin

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In the wake of heartbreaking loss and near-misses from youth drug use, the Sierra Sands Unified School District recruited former BMX pro, and recovering addict, Tony Hoffman to address students about how the seemingly insignificant choices we face have the power to destroy, and even end, our lives.

“What I didn’t know at age 18 is that there is a door that exists. You can’t see it, but you start walking through when you try cigarettes or vaping. It seems like no big deal, because you don’t know it’s there. But there comes a point when you’ve walked all the way through that doorway, that it is no longer your choice to turn around and walk back through.”

Hoffman’s sobering — literally and figuratively — tale took his teenaged listeners through towering successes and disappointments, and highlighted how even casual use of drugs can lead to devastating consequences.

“Don’t make the same mistake I made when I was your age,” he said. “When I would hear these presentations, I would find differences between me and the speakers, and find reasons why I didn’t need to listen.

“Instead of doing that, I want you to look for the similarities.”

Hoffman went on to tell students that he was a gifted athlete growing up. Because of his natural talent, he was not interested in doing the kind of conditioning required to refining and sustaining those abilities.

By the time he was in high school he had a contract with Fox Raising and endorsement deals with Airwalk shoes. He was celebrated, and in some cases envied, for his abilities.

“What people didn’t know is that when I took off my helmet, I wanted to kill myself. They didn’t know that I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning because of my depression.”

He didn’t know then that he suffered from social anxiety or that he should talk to someone about it. He stopped going to the track and started going to parties. But he told himself that his drinking and drug use were something he would only do on occasion.

“Next thing I knew, I was smoking every day.”

That led to harder, more highly addictive, drug use. When he ran out of money to pay for drugs, he decided to steal. He and a friend committed armed robbery on a home they knew was stocked with pills. However, he was caught and ended up with felony probation and compulsory rehabilitation.

When he got out, he told himself he would never use drugs again.

After he was hospitalized for an injury, a clinical attendant administered fentanyl through an IV. “They didn’t ask, ‘Do you or your family have a history of addiction? Because if you do, this can unlock a door that you don’t want to go through.’”

For Hoffman, it did. “Addiction is an obsession in your mind that you can’t control.” At 21, while recovering from his injury, he developed an addiction to the medication prescribed to control his pain. Those pills, he said, are just heroin in an orange bottle.

That renewed addiction led him down another dark path of begging, borrowing and stealing to support that obsession. Ultimately, he landed back in prison.

While lying in his bed at Wasco State Prison, he saw a message someone else had written on the ceiling. “Be careful what you think, your thoughts become words. Be careful what you say, your words become actions. Be careful what you do, your actions become habits. Be careful of your habits, they become your character. Be careful of your character, it becomes your destiny.”

“That quote changed my life, and become the blueprint for how I would live from that day forward,” he said.

“It all started with my thoughts. I recognized that I was lucky to be alive.”

He started his new life by focusing on the small tasks before him —brushing his teeth, making his bed, organizing his belongings —and taking pride in doing them diligently, without complaint and in the most exemplary manner possible.

Hoffman recounted for his listeners that of his friends who were also users, 11 were now dead. Only one was sober.

He decided he was going to get clean. He would return to racing. He would go to the Olympics.

He did return to racing, but suffered an injury through another competitor’s mistake. He would defy the odds, and his doctors’ expectations, by recovering without the help of narcotics to manage pain.

Hoffman shifted his focus to coaching, eventually mentoring multiple protegees to world championships. And one of his most promising female students ended up qualifying for the 2016 Olympics.

“I made it to the Olympics because I focused on the small stuff,” he said.

“I didn’t come here to tell you not to use drugs. Not one person needs me to tell them that. I’m here to tell you this — one choice can change the rest of your lives.”

Story First Published: 2018-11-21