Speaker delivers message of hope for area students

Former BMX racer and motivational speaker Tony Hoffman talked to area middle and high school students about his journey through addiction and prison. It's important to have difficult conversations and be vulnerable, he told them.

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Local News

March 22, 2024 - 3:12 PM

Tony Hoffman, a former BMX racer and motivational speaker, shared his story of overcoming drug addiction and prison to area middle and high school students Thursday at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

Tony Hoffman had a lot of questions as a child. His search for answers would lead him down a difficult path, from drug addiction to armed robbery to prison and, ultimately, toward redemption. After a successful career as a BMX racer and trainer, he’s now one of the world’s top motivational speakers. 

Hoffman spoke to area middle and high school students on Thursday at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center. 

“I feel like I’ve come to know some of the answers to those questions, and these are questions most kids are internalizing themselves about how to manage experiences,” Hoffman said. “When we realize we’re not alone, that in itself is soothing.”

In front of a packed audience, Hoffman assured students he wasn’t there just to tell kids “don’t do drugs.” They’ve already heard that message, he said. Instead, he wanted to share his story and offer “the blueprint of how our mental health is directly connected to why we do what we do on a daily basis, called our behavior.”

Hoffman grew up gifted in sports. All sports. He dreamed of one day playing in the NBA. But things changed around the time he was in seventh grade.

“I had this overwhelming feeling that I needed to kill myself and I didn’t understand where it was coming from,” he recalled. 

He wasn’t able to talk about his feelings. He thought he was broken and alone. He experienced anxiety and depression. He became isolated.

“The reality was there were many students that were struggling the same way I was but we didn’t create an environment for students to open up and talk about their experiences. We would sit in a room with 3,000 kids at my high school and each and every one of us felt like we were alone,” he said.

It’s difficult to have tough conversations. It takes courage to be vulnerable. 

Hoffman talked about his relationship with his father, the person he admired most. Perhaps if they’d been able to have difficult conversations, they could have understood how they each took a different approach to showing and receiving love. 

“What I didn’t understand at this time was that I was about to go through this experience in life that each and every one of you are doing right now,” he said. “Between the ages of 8 and 15, we create a belief system about ourselves. … There are two types of belief systems: I can, I will and I’m able or I can’t, I won’t and I’m not able.”

Behavior confirms those beliefs. Those who believe in themselves go to school, show up on time, study and do homework. They persevere.

Even though Hoffman’s athletic prowess had landed him on the cover of BMX Racing magazine, he didn’t believe in himself. When his dad didn’t come to his basketball games, Hoffman believed it was because there was something wrong with him. He wasn’t good enough. He wasn’t loved. 

“There’s a doorway that exists. It’s invisible but when you walk through this door and you step all the way through — for things like vaping, smoking weed, drinking alcohol, popping pills — you don’t get to turn around and walk back out,” he said. 

Most of his friends who stepped through that door came out in a casket, he said.

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