Opioids: Hoffman makes impression on high schoolers

 

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When BMX racing champion Tony Hoffman was a teenager, like the Parkside High School students who were listening to his story, he was confident he’d never touch drugs.

“I always said, ‘I don’t need to drink. I don’t need to smoke weed. I don’t need to smoke cigarettes. That’s not for me. I will never be that guy,” he said, microphone in hand, pacing in front of the stage in the high school auditorium.

Then he realized he was the only one among his friends not getting high.

“I said to myself for the first time, ‘I’m just going to try marijuana. Just one time.’

“I told my friend, ‘Hey, dude, smoke me out.’ He smokes me out and I remember I couldn’t stop laughing. The only thing I could think was, ‘It’s not as bad as they say it is.’

‘The teachers have been lying to us. The school’s been lying to us. Nobody’s losing their job. Nobody’s dying. This stuff can’t be that bad,’” he told a quiet and attentive audience, his fifth in two days when he was in Salisbury last week. He addressed all high school students, as well as adults in a public forum at Salisbury University.

“When I made that decision to smoke weed for the first time it made taking that first pill that much easier. And that made sticking a needle in my arm for the first time even easier,” he said.

“There’s a door that exists on the other side that we can’t see … when you make that decision to try drugs for the first time, you cannot just turn around and walk out. The only way you can get out is by changing everything in your life. I’m talking about every single thing – the way you think, the things you say, the friends you hang out with. That’s not a joke.

“We cannot see that door. And by the time we see it, it’s too late. By the time you walk through that door you can’t say, ‘Mom, help me.’ You can’t say, ‘Dad, get me out,’” he said.

Hoffman, 32, dressed in a gray T-shirt with the word “Hurley” in burgundy, navy blue shorts and blue shoes with the Nike logo on the side, held up a medal he received for winning second place in the world in bike racing. Truly, he said, it’s a miracle it was awarded to him.

“That’s all I cared about, was sports growing up. When I was a young kid, that’s all I cared about,” Hoffman said.

In October 2001 he was thrilled to have his picture on the cover of a national magazine

But because of his expert ability, he developed a self-righteous attitude that shaped who he was becoming.

He brazenly obtained marijuana for a classmate and was suspended from school. Afterward, his parents insisted he stay close to them, and attend his brother’s BMX racing events. Soon, he was racing, too.

By his junior year in high school, he had signed a three-year deal with Fox racing. Every month, he was sent more than $1,000 in promotional items like shoes, clothing and sunglasses. There was so much that many times he wore them once then gave them away to friends.

In 2002, he didn’t lose one race, but decided not to continue because  BMX racers don’t earn high salaries. Wanting money and a flashy lifestyle, he agreed to work for a man in San Diego who claimed to start $1 million businesses.

It turned out to be a scheme, but Hoffman, still with attitude, refused to take a normal paying job. He returned home to central California and started selling drugs.

“My friend and I put these pills up our noses and my life changed. I couldn’t believe how this pill made me feel. It made me feel so good… it gave me energy … at 18 years old I didn’t realize what I put up my nose was pharmaceutical heroin,” Hoffman said.

His parents discovered marijuana in his backpack and made him leave home.

Needing more drugs, he and a friend planned to rob a woman known for having a closetful of pain killers. The two drove to her home, opened an unlocked door, went through the garage and into the kitchen where she was sitting. Hoffman pressed a gun to her face and demanded the pills.

Leaving with a pillowcase stuffed with drugs having a $15,000 street value, Hoffman said he was overcome with the feeling he had made a terrible mistake.

He had.

After his arrest, his lawyer warned him that only rape, molesting a minor or murder were worse crimes.

At 21 years old, he was sentenced to 17 ½ years in jail, but was given five years felony probation and a strike on his record and ordered into rehabilitation for 90 days.

Afterward, he was determined not to touch drugs again, but started drinking within 30 days.

Soon he was in a fist fight. He threw a punch, hit a man and knocked out his tooth. Because he didn’t clean the wound well, his arm became infected and he needed surgery.

“They shot me up with morphine and I got this rush I never felt before  … they sent me home with Vicodin. My mom said, ‘I’m going to administer these pills to you because you can’t handle them,’” he recalled.

A few days later, he stole his mother’s keys and ran out with the pills.

“I got introduced to the needle. The day I put the needle in my arm the last group of people who were hanging out with me disappeared. People hated being around me. I was a cancer to other people,” he said.

His voice broke when he talked about his close friend Nate dying from using drugs eight years ago.

“No screams, no prayers. Nothing could bring Nate back. I know more people who have died from using drugs than who have gotten clean and sober,” he said.

Hoffman, on the street, drew up gutter water for his dope and slept in fields. He broke into a house in 2007, used heroin and cocaine and passed out. When he awoke, police officers were pointing guns at his face.

He was sentenced to 23 ½ months in prison. Sitting on the cot in his prison cell, he looked up and read powerful words that were printed on the ceiling.

Be careful what you think because your thoughts become your words. Be careful what you say because words become your actions. Be careful what you do because actions become habit. Be careful about habit, because your habits make up your character, and with your character comes your destiny.

“I kept reading it over and over and over and I started to realize I was exactly where I was supposed to be,” Hoffman said.

He made a commitment to race BMX professionally when he was released from jail, and he did. The first year, he rose to the Olympic  level.

In 2011 he injured his knee and underwent surgery and recovery with no pain medication.

In time, he rebuilt a relationship with his parents.

“We teach other, we love each other. We eat together as a family with my brother and his kids,” he said, adding he is single and has no children.

On May 17, Hoffman celebrated nine years of sobriety. When he told the audience at Parkside, applause erupted.

“Every single day of my life for that entire nine years I’ve thought about using drugs. Every single day. I don’t desire to use drugs but every single day I have a memory of using drugs or thoughts about using drugs,” he told the teens.

“I’m just a choice away from putting a gun to somebody’s face inside that home.”

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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