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Beat of his own drumstick: Going against norms and finding international success

8/9/2018
 

Like many throwers, Reese Hoffa’s track and field journey started in middle school. He was small, hadn’t quite developed, and frankly was far from a natural.

 

“I was horrible,” said the 2007 World Champion. “I was so bad that when [my coach] saw me throw in middle school he thought I should stop. He said he didn’t want to coach me.”

 

The Olympics weren’t even in sight for the self-described realist. While other young track and field athletes were dreaming of sporting “USA” on their chests at international competitions, Hoffa just hoped to travel with his middle school team.

 

He put on some weight, got stronger, and quit playing baseball in the spring of his junior year to focus on throwing the shot put. At the beginning of the year, Hoffa was throwing the 12- pound ball around 35 feet. He picked up the sport quickly and with the help of his coach tacked on more than 23 feet by the end of his junior year. Quickly creeping up on 60 feet, college throwing became a reality.

 

Despite being “too small to throw” he overcame obstacles. He took his farm boy strength and translated it to the shot put. His creative mind led to innovation as he molded the technique used by the standard 6-foot-4-inch elite shot putter to fit his 6-foot frame.

 

Hoffa went on to throw at the University of Georgia where he picked up five All-America honors. He graduated in 2001 and competed in his first Olympic games in 2004, became a World Indoor champion in 2006, World Outdoor Champion in 2007, took fourth in the 2008 Olympics, and brought an Olympic bronze back to Athens, Georgia in 2012.

 

“There was no way I should have been a professional if I had listened to the doubters,” said Hoffa. “You just have to be creative and find your own unique way to compete and be successful in a sport.”

 

Rather than setting limits, he rolled with the punches. He didn’t take himself too seriously and let his personality take over in competition rather than stiffening up. Known for competing in wrestling masks, posing with a turkey leg, and picking up a mascot for a victorious run, Hoffa could credit some of his success to his ability to joke around.

 

“It’s a competition, but the overall goal is to have fun and have a passion for anything that you do,” said Hoffa. “I’m throwing a 16-pound ball. It’s just a hunk of metal and someone was gracious enough to say ‘Hey, which one of you can throw this the farthest?’” I get to have fun with that.”

 

Hoffa’s size wasn’t the only circumstance that could have deterred him from throwing. Once an orphan, Hoffa’s life could have taken a completely different turn.

 

“Being adopted has had a big impact on my life. When you’ve been separated from your family and then put into another family, there is a need to belong and please the new family,” said Hoffa, who was adopted as a young child. “For me, my biggest goal when I was adopted was to make my family proud of everything that I’ve done. So, when I did sports I wanted to make sure I was the very best and worked as hard as I possibly could to be as successful as possible.”

 

He credits this competitive and resolute mindset to his adoption, wanting to make his family proud of the five-year-old boy they chose to take in, love, and raise as their own.

 

“I do not think the people that I competed against understand the level of determination that I have to be successful and be the very best.”

 

Down to his core, Hoffa is a competitor. Describing the shot put as a “game of dare,” he turns a physical event into a psychological one, daring the others to throw further than him. In his post-Olympic career he hasn’t stepped away from the competition, instead developing competitors through coaching, and has eagerly taken on a new challenge to give professional athletes a competitive edge through massage therapy.

 

The burly shot putter takes that same determination to make strides outside of the ring. Clearly passionate about learning and bettering himself, he inspires and facilitates others to do the same.

 

“Hopefully I opened up a door for shorter throwers in a way,” said the three-time Olympian. “You don’t have to be 6’5” to be a successful thrower for a longer period of time. You can be a little shorter, you’ve just got to think outside the box and be very consistent.”

 

Knowledge and personality are two of Hoffa’s key ingredients to help his clients improve and build confidence in their athletic ability. He guides his athletes through roadblocks and frustrations to reveal their potential.

 

“I like to be a part of that mechanism of making people feel really good,” said Hoffa.

 

Hoffa now runs his own businesses, Hoffa Throws Academy and Hoffa Massage Therapy through Core Blend Training and Wellness in Watkinsville, Georgia, and spends his spare time challenging his mind as he attempts to master the rubik’s cube.

 

Natalie Uhl

USATF Communications Intern

 


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