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Olympian recounts long journey from orphanage to success

  |   Kathryn Kao   |   Permalink   |   Alumni,   Spotlight

The single most difficult day of Reese Hoffa's life was when his mother gave him up for adoption. But as he adjusted to life at St. Thomas-St. Vincent orphanage in Louisville, KY, Hoffa realized that if he could survive this moment, he could survive anything that life threw at him.

The three-time Olympic shot putter and bronze medalist recently spoke at the 2016 TEDxUGA event where a select group of UGA faculty, alumni and students gathered together to share their ideas, philosophies and inspirations.

At the event, Hoffa—who graduated from the University of Georgia College of Education with a degree in health and physical education—discussed the hardships he faced growing up and the lessons he learned as a student athlete. After being named a five-time All-American Athlete, Hoffa went on to represent the United States as an Olympian in London, Athens and Beijing.

"Olympian... Instantly, you're thinking medals, go USA and greatness," said Hoffa. "Unfortunately, we've been conditioned to believe at a very young age that success is validated through a medal, a trophy or a trinket of some kind."

When Hoffa was adopted at the age of 5, he didn't know how to read or write. Since academic success seemed like an unobtainable goal at the time, he asked his parents if he could start playing sports instead. "They said no," Hoffa revealed. "And the reason they said no was because they didn't want me to just be an athlete. They wanted me to be a complete person, and academics is a part of that."

In fact, Hoffa said his greatest achievement wasn't winning an Olympic bronze medal or being a 2007 World Champion—it was graduating from UGA's College of Education. He credits his success both academically and athletically to various people in his life, including his adoptive parents, who introduced him to academic expectation; his teachers, who taught him the importance of working hard; and his coaches, who spent numerous hours training him after school.

As a result, Hoffa was able to attend UGA on an athletic scholarship and gain enough confidence to be an Olympian. Today, he coaches athletes in the shot put and is focused on instilling confidence in their athletic and personal abilities. The reward, he said, is the opportunity to see greatness in others.

"So, I stand up here today to encourage you to help someone else's journey towards success. Whether it be a five-year-old with no academic background or an athlete who's pursuing an academic endeavor—it's never too late to encourage this potential. Because after all, recognition shouldn't come in just a medal, a trophy or certificate, but rather the connection with others and the accomplishments we achieve through these personal relationships."

Hoffa lives in Watkinsville, Georgia, with his wife Renata and is currently training for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

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