Two adoptees representing the U.S. in the Olympic Games this month have met adversity with dignity, both on and off the field. My last blog was about Lopez Lomong, a Sudanese refugee who represented the United States not only on the track, but as the bearer of the U.S. flag in the opening ceremonies.
Reese Hoffa represented the U.S. in the shotput. Hoffa was born in Kentucky to a 15-year-old mother who already had a two-year-old.
Diana Chism, Reese’s birth mother, said she had been working 12 hours a day at a retail job but still wasn’t making it financially. Then their house burned down. Chism, still only 19 year old, brought Reese and his older brother Lamont to a Louisville orphanage.
After 18 months in the orphanage, the orphanage shut down and Reese was adopted by Stephen and Cathy Hoffa. Hoffa doted on his new younger siblings (born to the Hoffas), but there still seemed to be a distance between him and his adoptive parents. Hoffa remembers that it didn’t seem real. He remembers trying to be good so he wouldn’t be “sent back”.
Hoffa participated in many sports, but in the eighth grade a high school coach told him he would not be successful in the shotput. Hoffa later won two Georgia shotput championships for that coach. He also made All-American honors four times at the University of Georgia, from which Hoffa received a degree in health and physical education.
His college years were important to Hoffa for another reason. That was when he was reunited with his birthmother. In 1990, Diana Chism had married Mark Watts and begun to search for her youngest son. As Hoffa grew up, he also began to search, initially focusing on finding his older brother. In 2000 he came across another adoption website, adopt-assist.com, which he had not seen before. There he found a posting by Chism which led to their reunion. Chism was by then able to satisfy Reese’s curiosity about his brother as well.
On the field, Hoffa has become known not only for his considerable achievements but for his sense of humor. He once came to a meet dressed in a mask and calling himself “The Unknown Shotputter”. He became known for carrying a big turkey leg on his victory lap each time he won.
Off the field, Hoffa is also known as a whiz at solving the Rubik’s Cube puzzle, which he has done in 55 seconds. He enjoys golf and reading Anne Rice novels.
Reese has a good relationship with both his biological and adoptive family. He calls his mothers A-Mom and B-Mom (for adoptive mom and birth mom). Hoffa married his wife Renata in 2005.
Hoffa posted his best throws ever in 2007. He won both the IAAF Invitational in Japan and the London Grand Prix, in which he recorded his best throw of 22.43 meters (73 feet, 7.25 inches).
Hoffa was regarded as a favorite coming into the games, but placed seventh.
“Well, the best-laid plans do not always work out the way you think, and it is what you do when they do not work out that defines you,” Hoffa said.
Reese Hoffa has proved the truth of that statement off the field as well as on it.
Sources for this story included reesehoffa.com; the Washington Post, the Augusta Chronicle, AMP agency, and nbcolympics.com/bios.
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