Faith and Work: ‘Survivor Nicaragua’ Finalist Holly Hoffman on How to Survive the Trials of Life
May 16, 2013 | 2:40 pm
Editor’s Note: The new “Faith & Work” series will profile Christians who are influencing the culture in their professions. The series will examine how Christians can apply the Gospel into their lives and develop a Gospel-centered worldview to positively influence the common good and better serve their profession and industry.
Holly Hoffman, a finalist who finished fourth in CBS’s reality television show, “Survivor Nicaragua,” just released a new book, Your Winner Within, Own your Power, Your Attitude and Your Life, to help others “survive in the real world.”
“What I learned from being on the reality show, I have been able to apply to the real world of survival,” she says. From her experience on the show, she learned what really mattered to her – her faith, her family and friends, and finding an inner strength she didn’t know she had. “Life is not always fair,” she says. “My faith makes me realize that there is always a reason [for a life experience] and if God brought you to it, He will get you through it.”
A few years ago after all of her three children left for college, Hoffman decided to “step out of her comfort zone,” and applied to be on “Survivor.” After sending in one application, one audition DVD, and having one casting call, Hoffman was accepted to the show for season 21, which took place in Nicaragua. At age 44, she was one of the oldest to be accepted out of 100,000 people who applied for the highly coveted spot.
Her athletic tenacity enabled Hoffman to make it through a difficult first few days on the show. She explains that she “had a bad start. I wanted to quit day 5. I had a bad attitude, I was not believing in myself and I had no determination.” She had to make it through 39 days in the middle of the jungle with very little food and shelter.
It was exceedingly difficult. People were attacking her character and she didn’t have the support of family or friends. She felt alone. At one point after being taunted by a fellow contestant for being from South Dakota, she filled that contestant’s $1,600 pair of shoes with sand and threw them into the ocean.
Ultimately, however, she made it past the first five days, and chose to stay in the competition by relying on her inner strength and on God. She was then able to overcome disappointment and challenges, including a fire that destroyed her team’s hut and possessions. “When I realized I needed to make some changes and start believing in myself, I was able to further myself in the game,” she explains. She dug deep within and persevered.
Her grit paid off. By the end of the show, she was the last woman, the last person in her age bracket, and the last member of her tribe to make it as far as she did. In fact, Jeff Probst, the producer of the show said he had never seen a cast member “do a 180″ like Hoffman did.
During the series, she lost 22 pounds and suffered physical hardships. When she arrived home, her family was stunned by her condition when they first saw her at the airport.
After placing fourth, and once home, she thought she would lead a “normal life” in her town of Eureka, South Dakota, but God had other plans for her. She gained an additional role in her life (on top of being a wife, daughter, mother, and swim coach) to provide inspiration and motivation to others struggling with their own hardships. As a result, she wrote a book and speaks nationwide, offering “survival skills” to others.
She focuses on “Six Key Words” in her book and throughout her talks: attitude, determination, confidence, desire, faith, and perseverance. “Feel it, know it, show it, believe it,” she says.
“Inner strength is a combination of faith along with attitude, determination, desire confidence and perseverance,” Hoffman explains. “Ultimately you are the one who has to pull yourself through challenges in life, but you are never alone. Sometimes you may feel alone, but with God’s strength through prayer your inner strength will pull you through.”
After her experience and talking with people throughout the country, she says, “I have learned that a true survivor is someone who is battling cancer, who has lost a loved one, who has lost their home in a fire or flood, or someone with any adversity who perseveres; because it’s really how we survive hardships in our lives, that once you get through them, you are a stronger person.”
She hopes to impart to others that anyone “can do anything in life [they] set [their] mind to. When you face your fears, you gain strength and courage. Don’t let your past mistakes define your future… nobody can go back and make a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new end.”
She says, “never let the odds keep you from doing something that you want to do. It’s too easy in today’s world to give up because people think already in their mind you know I can’t do something or I can’t finish this or it’s too easy to just walk away from something. But when you tell yourself you can and you use your inner strength to do that, you don’t have to give up.”
Her faith was essential to making it as far on the show as she did. Hoffman said, “When you have nothing or no one else to rely on, you have to rely on your inner strength, which comes from your faith. I had no cell phone, I could not call my husband or our children, I had no computer, and I couldn’t email a friend. I relied solely on God.
“I would often walk down to the beach and pray. God gave me the strength to get through the cold evenings in the pouring rain. He gave me the strength to walk without the strength of food in my body. He gave me the strength to keep going. In life we face challenges and when we do, we get strength from others, family and friends, but when it comes right down to it, it’s between you and God. He is the one who gives you your inner strength to keep going.”
Her advice to anyone struggling with facing their fears or taking on new challenges in life, is to “step out of your comfort zone and believe in who you are – everyone has a winner within ourselves – we just need to find it.”
Finding the “winner within ourselves” is a joint mission, she explains. “The only one who can help you survive and thrive in life is God. It’s amazing how a challenge can turn into an opportunity – never let fear decide your fate. Prayer works, prayers are not always answered but God always has a reason. We may not always know that reason but He does! Have Faith in God and yourself and you will survive.”
Hoffman is married to a South Dakota legislator and one of her daughters was a former “Miss South Dakota.”
Sioux Falls move spurs record race
By Sarah Reinecke, Argus Leader
They were among thousands who participated in the South Dakota Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, which relocated to Sioux Falls from Vermillion this year and drew more than twice as many people.
“It makes me want to cry, makes my heart swell,” said Kleinhesselink of Hawarden, Iowa. She underwent a double mastectomy last September. “Even people not directly touched by cancer are here supporting it. It’s amazing.”
Race chairwoman Susie Patrick estimates fundraising for individuals and teams at $100,000, a record-setting level. That doesn’t include corporate fundraising. Patrick said final numbers are not yet available. About 5,000 people participated.
“It’s just absolutely heartwarming, so exciting,” Patrick said.
The race relocated after four years in Vermillion so that it could grow. Patrick said there’s still room to double or triple this year’s turnout. Last year’s race drew about 2,000 participants and raised $200,000.
Patrick and hundreds of volunteers spent six months planning the 5K run and 1-mile walk/run, which started under an arch of pink balloons in Falls Park, outside the Silver Moon Bar. Participants wound through downtown, on Dakota, Main and Phillips avenues, then through Cherapa Place and on to the finish line in Falls Park.
While Kleinhesselink, a University of South Dakota employee, missed starting and ending in the DakotaDome, she said the turnout was fantastic and called the setting on the crisp morning beautiful. It was a day to bring the extended family together.
“I’m unbelievably humbled,” said her mom, Yvonne Kraft of Omaha. “We’ve been through cancer before; it makes us stronger and makes us stand together as a family.”
Robin Thibodeau was dancing to the music, watching as the 5K runners and walkers took off, waiting her turn to do the one-mile walk. She’s 11 years cancer-free and attended the survivors breakfast with egg bake, fruit, coffee and juice. She spent the morning walking and talking to people, and met Holly Hoffman of “Survivor,” honorary chairwoman of the event.
“(My kids) have always thought it’s something we needed to be involved in,” she said.
Another group wore pink fairy wings, pink fishnets, tie-dyed leggings and shirts with positive words such as “Life, Awareness, Believe and Hope.” They were the Tata Toothfairies, a group of 13 from Sensational Smiles dental office.
“It’s awesome, it’s one big part at 8 a.m.,” Samantha Adams said. “It’s a good cause, it affects so many people.”
Nearby, Nancy Volk wore her pink survivor T-shirt with a sign pinned on the back that said, “I race in celebration of all survivors. God bless them all.” Volk, 18 years cancer-free, was part of the Brandon Lewis Drug team.
Colette Abbott, who founded the first South Dakota Komen race in 2008 at the DakotaDome, was one of about 50 participants from Team Vermillion. She said Falls Park creates a completely different atmosphere, and Sunday was a beautiful day for the race.
“The pink, along with the fall colors, is a perfect combination to start off Breast Cancer Awareness month,” teammate Colleen Schurrer of Yankton said.
Humor is what Yvette VanDerBrink uses to talk about cancer, sharing her experiences about her husband shaving her head in the kitchen, giving her razor burn, or her wig blowing away in an airport parking lot. Her family wore turtle shells and pink wigs, a theme for her book, “My Mom Looks Like a Turtle.” It’s a story to help teach kids about cancer, said VanDerBrink, a five-year survivor who lives in Hardwick, Minn.
She owns VanDerBrink Auctions and uses the collector car and tractor sales as a platform to speak. Through her two-year battle with cancer, she did 19 auctions in five states, working herself so hard that she wound up in a hospital in Colorado with appendicitis.
“I was not going to give up,” she said. “Women don’t want to talk about it … it’s shame, you’re labeled after the diagnosis with cancer. You might as well be green. I never wanted that ‘poor, pity me.’ I kept positive and upbeat people around.”
She tries to make people laugh because it takes away the pain, and she hopes to do more speaking engagements.
Campaign’s goal to raise awareness
By Mary Pat Hoag
Norfolk Daily News
That’s according to Holly Hoffman, who endured through 38 days of the 39-day taping in the show’s season 21 two summers ago.
What it took to survive in the jungles of Nicaragua is the same as everyday life, said the rancher from Eureka, S.D., who spoke in Norfolk on Wednesday night. The event was the ninth annual Go Red for Women Ladies Night Out at the Divots DeVent Center.
The goal of the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign is to raise awareness that heart disease and stroke are the number one and number four killers of U.S. women, respectively.
It’s an “amazing campaign,” Hoffman said.
Eighty percent of cardiovascular-related events could be prevented if women make changes in their diet, plus exercise and don’t smoke, she said.
Women, who too often spend most of their time caring for others and consequently neglect themselves, need to make personal healthy lifestyle changes a daily priority, she said.
“Taking care of others doesn’t mean you should forget to take care of yourself,” Hoffman said. “It’s OK to take time for yourself. You have to become the change you want.”
Her transformation story began four years ago when Hoffman said she was overweight and “extremely out of shape. I was not happy with myself.”
She started eating healthier and gradually began an exercise program. “I started focusing on me,” Hoffman said.
Within 19 months, she had lost 40 pounds and was in top physical form.
With her three children grown, Hoffman said she then wanted to do something for herself in the form of a challenge, as well as an adventure. She — and 100,000 others — applied for season 21 of “Survivor.”
“Never let the odds keep you from doing something you want to do,” Hoffman said. “If you wait for an opportunity to occur, you will be one of the crowd.”
The then-44-year-old filled out the 24-page application, listing her occupation as swim coach, and submitted a three-minute audition tape in May 2009.
“I never thought they’d pick me,” Hoffman said. But she was chosen and was among the 10 members in the 40 years and older castaways Espada tribe who vied in challenges and competitions against the 10 tribe members age 30 and younger.
Immediately, reality set in
She had only the clothes on her back and a swimsuit. There was no deodorant nor porta-potties. Leaves substituted for toilet paper. The first day meant building a shelter from bamboo, which broke down three times that night in pouring rain.
Hoffman said she went the first three days without sleep and living on only one-fourth cup of rice each day. By day five, Hoffman said she was crying and more than ready to quit.
“I wasn’t believing in myself,” she said.
Fellow tribal member Jimmy Johnson, a former Dallas Cowboys football coach, then 67, talked her into continuing.
Hoffman said she “sought a new beginning” and a change of attitude to the positive. It helped her as she spent the first 17 nights of the taping sleeping out in the open. She suffered over 200 insect bites; one left a permanent scar.
Hoffman then interjected into her speech the need for determination in life and on “Survivor.”
“A setback is a setup for a comeback if you have determination,” she said. “I had to believe in myself. When your confidence goes up, your competence goes up.”
She said she spent “a lot of time sitting in the jungle by myself. I had a lot of time to think.”
Hoffman said she was the type of person back home who vacuumed daily and allowed no dirty dishes to sit in the sink. She said she came to the conclusion that “that’s not important. What’s important is the time we spend with other people.”
On the 38th day, Hoffman was voted out during the tribal council. But, Hoffman said, she made it to the final four, was the last woman standing and the last member of the older tribe left.
“I wasn’t one day short,” she said. “I was 38 days long. What I learned from the experience was truly a life lesson.”
While Hoffman said she was in the best shape of her life going into “Survivor,” the experience took a physical toll.
Arriving home at a S.D. airport, Hoffman said, “I could barely walk.” Her then-24-year-old son wrapped his arms around her emaciated body and told her: “I’m proud of you, Mom.”
Hoffman said those words were worth more than the million dollars she would have won as the final survivor.
Life, Hoffman said, is about surviving, making the right changes for yourself, finding your inner strength and becoming a healthier person.
Go Red for Women is about surviving, she said.
Hoffman told the approximately 850 women in the audience — many wearing red — that “you need to take charge of your life. You’re here for one reason. It’s because you care (about yourselves). Today is your day . . . to become a real-world survivor.”
Wednesday night’s event also drew about 100 men — many of them from the Norfolk business and medical sectors — who volunteered as waiters. The Norfolk event is the state’s largest-attended Go Red for Women activity.
The local presenting sponsor is the Faith Regional CardioVascular Institute.
The event included several fundraisers, including silent and live auctions. One item was a tailgate party at the Governor’s Mansion with Gov. Dave Heinemann and first lady Sally Ganem.
The event raised more than $100,000, organizers said.
A special video presentation featured Robin Spence-Albers of Norfolk, who suffered a life-changing stroke in her 40s nearly two years ago and continues to undergo rehabilitation.
* * *
Want to learn more?
Life lessons from a Survivor was great finish to the Cancer Walk/Run events
By Garrick Moritz
Faulk County Record
“We were overwhelmed with the great response from the community on all aspects of the event,” said Faulk County American Cancer Society member Beth Deiter. “People really participated and it was a fun and informative day. The result was more than we could have hoped for.”
“From the 5K run we had 17 total runners, about the same as 2010,” she said. “Preliminarily we had more signed up but some were unable to attend and with the early harvest.”
“Overall top female with a time of 20:32 was Trish Cotton. Overall top male was Rick Rausch, time of 18:55. The female 26-40 division had the most entries.”
1st place finishes in each division were:
Youth: female-Chloe Law; youth male-Joseph Holsing
18 – 25: female-Trish Cotton; male-Joe Schilder
26 – 40: female-Lisa Raethz; male-Shayne Geditz
41 & over: female-JJ Beadle; male-Rick Rausch
“We don’t have an accurate count on the walkers,” Deiter said. “We did however have more pre-registered walkers than we’ve ever had before, with many more signing up that day. Not all of those who registered actually walked.
Deiter said that the current estimate of amount raised is over $20,000.
“That’s just a preliminary number until we crunch all the numbers and we always have some late monies that come in,” she said. “We still have some t-shirts left for a price of $10 if anyone didn’t get one and wishes to have one.”
There was a good crowd for the commencement of the Cancer Walk/Run events on Sunday night, after a large supper attendees filed into the old gym to hear speeches and for the Luminaries Ceremony.
First, Deiter thanked the crowd for their support of the events and gave tallies of the proceeds so far that will go to American Cancer Society cancer research and treatment programs. She made special note of the Faulkton Area Elementary School’s 4th grade class who raised $705 and the folks over in Seneca who hosted their own version of the Amazing Race and raised $1,400 for cancer.
Deiter invited first April Sorensen of the Faulkton Area Medical Center and then Denise Kolba of the American Cancer Society.
Sorenson spoke about the successful programs that FAMC has run the past three years due to the grant money they have received, such as the Dig Pink and Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaigns. This year, she said they will be shifting focus from education, awareness and prevention to some direct assistance programs and she encouraged cancer survivors present to contact her for more details.
Kolba is the American Cancer Society Health Care Partnerships Director in Sioux Falls, supervising entry for South Dakota Citizens in the CPS-3 study. She spoke about South Dakotans so far involved in the study. The initial projections the American Cancer Society had for the whole of the two cities selected to be in the study (Rapid City and Sioux Falls) had been about 750 persons, but South Dakota surprised everyone by recruiting over 1,500 people.
“That’s more than 200% over their projections, and right now with 1,534 we’re the top in the nation, for volunteers in this study,” Kolba said.
Kolba said that with the high turnout Brookings will soon be added to the cities included in the study group and that she’s optimistic that other cities like Aberdeen and Watertown will be included as well.
Then, after an introduction from Deiter, keynote speaker Holly Hoffman came front and center. To call Hoffman a highly energetic and passionate woman would be a gross understatement. From the moment she began to speak she was both captivating and a whirlwind of thought and action.
Hoffman shared with the gathered audience her experiences with the TV show Survivor, and the many life lessons she learned because of the show.
One of the first lessons she said she learned, and that was perhaps doubly important to a cancer patient, was to never give up, despite the odds. For that season of Survivor there were one hundred thousand applications of others who wanted to be on the show. Somehow, out of all of that, she was picked. From this, she also learned that you should never pass up an opportunity when it comes.
She said that her first five days on the show were very rough on her. With little to eat and far away from her family, and crippled by doubt, guilt and fear of the unknown she wanted to just give up. But after a consult with former pro football coach Jimmy Johnson who was a member of her tribe, she was able to bolster and keep going with renewed determination.
“People think that when they fall down they fail, but that’s not true,” she said. “It’s when you don’t get back up, when you choose to stay down that you’ve failed.”
Hoffman said that worry is like a rocking chair, rocking in it gives you something to do, but gets you nowhere. She discovered that being happy or being miserable take just as much work, and so why not choose to have a positive attitude. It may not make things better by itself, but it’s better than the alternative.
Hoffman said that she learned to appreciate each and every day, and that the small stuff of every day life is just that, small and trivial. She said that now she’s learned to treasure every day, and to treasure all the privileges that her life has given her. This from a lady who was a self-confessed person who always had to have every dish washed and every inch of her house spotless.
Overcoming her first reluctance, she stuck in the game almost to the very end. She learned how to cope with fear, worry, doubt, and how precious every day is. And how when a situation beats you down, it’s how you respond to it that makes your life good or bad.
“I like to say that instead of being voted out one day short, I stayed in the game 38 days long,” she said. “I was the last woman and the last member of my tribe still in the game.”
When Hoffman left she said that she had been in the best shape of her life, but after living on only a cup of rice a day or less she had become almost emaciated. Her mother cried at their reunion, but she said that her son took her and hugged her and told her how proud he was of her.
“My son had never told me before that he was proud of me,” she said. “That affected me like nothing else ever could. So to members of our family who are cancer survivors, let them know. Tell them, your proud of them. And to all of you who are right here and now, who have fought cancer, you are the real survivors and I want to say that I’m proud of you.”
‘Survivor’ has written a book
Motivational book complements her speaking engagements
BY JEFF BAHR email@example.com
7:55 a.m. CDT, July 19, 2012
Since appearing on “Survivor: Nicaragua” in 2010, Hoffman has done an awful lot of public speaking.
“First and most importantly, I love it,” she said.
She likes “the feeling of getting up in front of a group of people and telling them my story.”
Her husband, Charlie, travels with her “as much as he possibly can,” Hoffman said. Her mother and a couple of close friends also accompany her a lot. “So I love going. I love meeting the people; I love sharing the message,” she said in a phone interview.
Now, Hoffman has written a book, which complements her speaking engagements. The book is called “Your Winner Within: Own Your Power, Your Attitude and Your Life.” Former NFL football coach Jimmy Johnson, Hoffman’s fellow competitor on “Survivor,” wrote the foreword. Priced at $20, “Your Winner Within” was published by Throne Publishing Group of Sioux Falls.
But as her speaking career “started to develop and just kind of take off,” she realized that a lot of speakers have written books.
“The person that really kind of inspired me to do it was V.J. Smith,” she said, referring to the Eureka High School graduate who authored “The Richest Man in Town.”
As Hoffman goes around speaking, she hears a lot about Smith, which led her to read and enjoy his book.
Hoffman realized that “I really do need to write a book” because her speech is often a motivational talk. “I talk about attitude, determination, confidence, desire, faith and never giving up.”
Those six points are developed into chapters in the book, which also includes motivational quotes.
She wants it to “be the kind of book that someone just carries with them and if they’re having a bad day or they need a little motivation, they can open the book up and read a quote.” She wrote the book with a ghost writer, Christine Whitmarsh of Reno, Nev.
A man told her last week that “to be a speaker is great but to combine a speaker and author together, that’s even better.” She is selling the book at her talks. At the first speech where books were available, in her hometown, Hoffman sold 160 copies. Her goal is to sell 1,000, which shouldn’t be a problem.
She didn’t want to set her goal too high or too low, she said.
The book uses examples from her own life. In the chapter about never giving up, she cites her son, Austin, who wanted to quit college when he was a sophomore.
She encouraged him to hang in there. “The day he graduated he looked at me and said, ‘Thanks, Mom.’ ”The book also includes videotaped interviews. People with a smartphone or iPod may scan the QR code to see the videos.
In trying to motivate people, Hoffman is reminded of her days as a swim coach.
“I tried to inspire kids and make them the best I could,” she said. Since that chapter of her life is over, “this is another way for me to reach people.”
When she was a coach, “I really tried to tell the kids to focus on being the best swimmer that you could be.
Winning isn’t everything.”
But maintaining or improving your time on each race is what’s important, she said. “I also really stressed sportsmanship,” she said.
Three or four years down the road, people don’t remember if a swimmer was a state champion or how many races she won, “but they remember that you were the swimmer that reached across the lane line and shook their hand.”
Sportsmanship, she said, “is huge.”
For the foreseeable future, Hoffman will concentrate on her speaking and her book. Another author told her that it sometimes takes seven printings before a writer is satisfied with a book. The author can correct things and make adjustments with each printing.
Hoffman noted that her book is on its second printing, and “I’ve already changed a few words.”
Meanwhile, her speaking engagements are expanding outside of South Dakota.
She has spoken in the Twin Cities, in North Dakota and Orlando, Fla. In the near future, she’ll give talks in Sidney, Mont., and Lincoln, Neb.
When asked if she might appear on another TV show, Hoffman said she couldn’t answer the question. It’s a possibility, she said.
The Hoffmans’ son, Austin, lives in Brandon with his wife, Megan. He does morning news for KELOTV. Their oldest child, Alexandra, is a morning traffic and sports reporter for Omaha TV station KETV.
Their youngest child, Elizabeth, will start medical school soon at the University of South Dakota.
“So Charlie and I have been blessed with three great children,” she said.
Hoffman, who is frequently recognized, said people shouldn’t be hesitant to approach her. She likes to talk to those folks “so I can find out more about them.”
Over the last few years, many people have told Hoffman they have a connection. “I have more relatives now than I ever thought I had,” she said, laughing.
To get a copy of “Your Winner Within,” visit hollyhoffman.org. She will also appear soon in the Aberdeen area.
Watch South Dakota’s KELOLAND News’ videos featuring and interviews with Holly Hoffman as she discusses her Survivor experience.
Holly Hoffman, Life After Survivor
by Cindy Schumacher, Northwest Blade
When I applied to be on the reality show, Survivor, in 2009, I would never have dreamt in a million years that it would take me to where I am today. When I started the show, I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn’t realize how hard. Contestants had to last 39 days in the middle of the jungle in Nicaragua to make it to the end to be the sole survivor, with very little food and shelter, and none of the conveniences we all take for granted in our lives here at home. I had a bad start, and it was on day five that I wanted to quit. As I was sitting out there, with people attacking my character and without the support of my family or friends, I remembered that I wasn’t just representing myself – I was representing my family, my friends, and the entire state of South Dakota. Was I really going to walk off on national television? Quitting was the easy way out, and I had to dig deep within myself and tell myself that I can do this.
Being at the finale in Los Angeles in December of 2010, I just thought that I would go back home to my real life. But even while the show was airing, (I was home when it went on the air, because it was filmed four months prior), I couldn’t go to a restaurant or store without people recognizing me and wanting to talk or have their picture taken with me. Little did I know that this was only the beginning. I truly feel that, in life, things happen for a reason. Making one audition tape, applying one time, having one casting call, when most people have to apply at least five times, (Jane from our season applied 17 times), I truly believe that there was a reason that I was put on this show; not only to make myself better, but also to share my story with others so they can better themselves, as well.
What I was able to take away from Survivor is that it wasn’t just surviving on a reality show that matters but how we survive in the real world. I have learned that a true survivor is someone who is battling cancer, who has lost a loved one, who has lost their home in a fire or flood, or someone with any adversity who perseveres; because it’s really how we survive hardships in our lives, that once you get through them, you are a stronger person.
After the show was over, Jeff Probst, the host of Survivor, told me I had a story to tell and that I should do some public speaking. Also, a producer told me that in the 21 seasons of Survivor, they had never had a castaway do a 180 like I did. My first thought was that there was no way that I could get up in front of people and speak; but after the show was over, I remember receiving my first call to speak at an event. After accepting the speaking engagement, I remember sitting down and working on that speech. I was surprised how easy it was to write and relate my experiences to the key characteristics that I feel are needed to survive in the real world.
Going to that first speech, I was shaking and was so nervous that I actually felt like I was going to throw up. I had a good response from the audience and had a lot of questions, so I felt very comfortable. In a short period of time, I gave approximately 25 speeches. In the back of my mind, I thought because I was fresh off the show that this was going to fade, but the phone kept ringing with people and organizations who wanted me to speak.
I decided that if I was going to make this a profession, I had to become a professional. By getting pointers from other public speakers and watching speakers on Youtube, I perfected my power-point and taught myself to become a better speaker, along with learning to alter my speech for each particular audience. When I talk to women, I talk about taking time for yourself and taking care of yourself. When I speak to students, I talk about taking opportunities and never giving up. When I talk to churches, I talk about how this experience has strengthened my faith and how God helped me get through different times in my life. In general, I focus on attitude, determination, confidence, desire, and faith, and putting those five things in with never giving up, because that is a true survivor.
It was then I decided that I was going to open up a business, which is called Inner Depth LLC. With the help of a gentleman from Aberdeen who is also a public speaker, I drew up a contract and an invoice. I like scheduling my own speeches within the state of South Dakota, but I have recently hired the Spirit Agency out of Rock Island, Illinois, to take care of out-of-state bookings and build my website called hollyhoffman.org. They have scheduled a speech for me in Florida the end of May. However, because I was already booked, I had to turn down a speech in North Carolina. I also have a publicist from Sioux Falls at Throne Publishing who is helping me write a book.
Some of the organizations I have spoken for are athletic boosters, swim team fundraisers, Relay for Life organizations, Celebrate Women events, women’s expos, leadership conferences, Dare Graduations, churches, conventions, an Independent Insurance Agents conference, Go Red for Women, Chamber of Commerce in several cities, 4-H Development conventions, Brown County Fair, SD Telecommunication Association, St. Mary’s Foundation, Universities, and 38 schools, just to name a few. After as many speeches as I’ve done, I still get nervous, no matter if I’m in front of 15 people or 1,000. I always try to give a speech like it’s my first one. To date, I have given my speech 125 times.
I’ve made appearances for charity events such as the Realityrally in Temecula, CA, (a breast cancer fundraiser), Louisville, KY, for the Shriners Hospital, Celebration Florida for Make-A-Wish Foundation, and a political rally for Rupert Boneham (Survivor star and Fan Favorite) in Indianapolis, IN, who has announced his candidacy for governor. I didn’t know I would have the opportunity to be a part of these events after I got off the show. It amazes me when there are 80-90 reality stars from different shows, and we all sit at tables for hours and sign autographs. What people don’t realize, when they thank me and tell me it’s an honor to have my autograph, that it’s more of an honor for me.
The largest crowd I spoke in front of was the Sioux Falls Roosevelt High School freshman and sophomore classes, over 1,000 students. After setting up my screen and displaying my torch, flags, and clothes, I stood and watched as the students filed into the gymnasium. They just kept coming, and coming, and coming. I was very nervous about keeping their attention for an hour, but I felt the speech went ok. The thing that always amazes me is the emails I get from the students after I speak. Some of them say things like, “I was thinking about quitting school,” or “I was going to drop a class, but you made me realize that was the easy way out.” All the miles you put on your car, the nights you are away from home and staying in hotels, the phone calls, the paper work, is all worth it if you touch one person’s life.
Another large crowd was just recently when I spoke in Watertown for the Prairie Lakes Healthcare Systems for an event called Ladies Night Out. I remember talking to the lady organizing the event when she thought there would be 250 ladies. She kept emailing me and telling me that the list was increasing until they had 701 ladies RSVP. Due to bad weather, however, only 550 showed up, but having that kind of audience is a huge adrenaline rush for me.
I really love speaking, but I have also learned through this experience that I have to adjust my schedule to take more time for my family and friends. After giving 19 speeches in November 2011 alone, I realized that was too many. My New Year’s resolution was to limit myself to a certain number of speeches each month so I won’t spread myself too thin. In doing so, I have had to turn down some speeches, but that is a good problem to have.
My hope is that my book will be finished for a book signing during the Eureka Quasquicentennial this July 5, 6, & 7. The purpose of the book is to inspire people to be the best they can be, to help them realize they shouldn’t let their past define their future, and what’s important in life is to strive to survive. Based on the five points from my speech, along with my main point of never giving up, it will have many stories, including some of my childhood experiences growing up with an alcoholic father. My mom raised three kids on her own and set the example for us that hard work pays off. After I had my own family, I realized what she really did. Taking negative experiences and turning them into something positive is what helps you get through life and makes you a stronger person. I also hope to include interviews of various people in the book from an internet talk show I am doing based out of Sioux Falls.
With the opportunity I was given to be on this reality show, (there were right around 100,000 people who applied), it’s really what you take away from the experience. Some reality stars better themselves, and some don’t. Fortunately, this experience has changed my life for the better.
Although my life has changed, I’m still the same person; I still mow my own lawn, clean my own house, and buy my own groceries. When you do something like this, you have to stay true to who you are, and you have to stay grounded. Representing the town of Eureka and the State of South Dakota is a huge honor for me, and their support is still ongoing, for which I am so grateful. With that being said, I will keep speaking, keep working on my book, start my talk show shortly, and keep surviving.