Holly (Wanner) Hoffman was born and raised in Eureka, a small town with about 850 residents, in north central South Dakota. Being the youngest of three children and the only girl in the family, Holly definitely considers herself a tomboy at heart. Her parents owned a local grocery store called Wanner’s Meat Market, and she would go to the grocery store after school to help. Holly would bring friends into the store and tell them they could have whatever they want (thinking everything was free)—soon her mom and dad put a stop to that little arrangement!
Growing up, life wasn’t always easy for Holly. Her father was an abusive alcoholic who went in and out of treatment many times but never seemed to shake his addiction. The real problem started when her father started gambling. Holly’s parents divorced when she was in the sixth grade, forcing her brothers and her to all find jobs. Her father basically disappeared, coming in and out of their lives whenever he was around the area. He showed up at their athletic events once in awhile and the embarrassment of him falling up or down the bleachers from being drunk was hard to handle. Times were hard because there was no child support for her family, and not knowing where her father was and when he would show up made Holly and her family quite fearful. However, Holly perserved and stayed as strong as possible to have a regular life growing up.
In the eighth grade, Holly made the high school track team and discovered she loved running. For her, running was a time to clear her mind and sometimes run off steam from either the day of school or the home life she was enduring. High school was an important time in Holly’s life with many great memories but also many hardships. Being the South Dakota State Champion in the 100 meter and 300 meter hurdles three years in a row was a great memory.
Her senior year, she was voted the Female High School Athlete of the Year for the entire state of South Dakota. At that moment, she realized hard work pays off. Also, Holly started dating Charlie Hoffman her senior year of high school and their courtship continued while she attended Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Charlie and Holly married in 1985 and started their new home on a cattle ranch in rural Eureka. Holly continued taking online college classes and driving to Aberdeen, South Dakota, two days a week to attend classes.
Starting their family early in the marriage, their son Austin was born in November of 1985. Their first daughter Alexandra was born in November of 1987. At that time, after continuing to take college courses, Holly decided to stay home and care for the children which she found very rewarding. They added their second daughter, Elizabeth, in April of 1990. Sadly, her father passed away the same year in August. He was only 46 years of age and had paid the ultimate price for a lifelong addiction to alcohol.
In 1994, Holly started a swim team in the Eureka community. Noticing her two oldest children had a great talent in swimming, she wanted to focus on their talent and that is why she formed the team. Letting others in the community join the team, it quickly became a well-known swim team across the entire state of South Dakota. Holly coached the swim team for 17 years with 16 years volunteering her time. She was named Coach of The Year twice throughout her career. Her daughters, Alexandra and Elizabeth, were very successful collegiate swimmers after so much support.
Raising their children to always be the best they can be in every aspect of life was always a huge priority. Their daughters also were involved in pageantry as they entered high school. In 2006, Alexandra was crowned Miss South Dakota Teen USA. In 2008, Elizabeth was crowned Miss South Dakota Teen USA; and the same year, Alexandra was crowned Miss South Dakota. Also in that same year, her husband Charlie decided to run for the South Dakota Legislature House of Representatives. At that time Holly was not only preparing two girls for national pageants, she was running a campaign for her husband. Alexandra placed in the top 15 in the Miss America Pageant and Charlie won his campaign!
Holly and Charlie feel blessed with three wonderful children. Austin and Alexandra graduated from South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota, with Broadcast Journalism degrees. Both now have great jobs in the broadcasting field. Austin and his wife Megan reside in Brandon, South Dakota. Elizabeth is a graduate from the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, South Dakota, and will begin Medical School in August of 2012.
After all three children left for college, Holly decided she wanted a challenge and an adventure in her own life. She wanted to step out of her comfort zone, and that is when she decided to apply to be on the CBS reality show, “Survivor”. After sending in one application, one audition DVD, and having one casting call, Holly made the show for season 21, “Survivor Nicaragua“. Little did she know, this was only the beginning of her journey. Holly feels that what she learned from being on the reality show, she has been able to apply to the real world of survival. Holly finished fourth at the end of the season and was the last woman standing as well as the last member of her tribe.
Soon after coming home from Nicaragua, Holly became an inspirational and motivational speaker. Holly encourages others to take opportunities and also focus on attitude, confidence, determination, desire, and faith. Which is what her new book, The Winner Within, explains in detail.
She believes her childhood experiences grounded her to become the determined person she is today. Not realizing it at the time, but now looking back, Holly feels you sometimes must go through hardships in your life to become a more determined person. Her mom was a true example of how to never give up in life.
When asked about what she hopes people come away with after listening to her speech, “I hope you will walk out of the room realizing you can do anything in life you set your mind to. When you face your fears, you gain strength and courage. Don’t let your past mistakes define your future,” Holly stated, “nobody can go back and make a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new end.”