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A Dream Drove Sylvia Hoffman To An Olympic Medal; She Hasn’t Stopped Dreaming

by Chrös McDougall

(L-R) Elana Meyers Taylor and Sylvia Hoffman celebrate with their bronze medals during the flower ceremony following the 2-woman finals at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 19, 2022 in Yanqing, China.

 

It all started with a dream. As a girl growing up in Texas, Sylvia Hoffman played basketball and volleyball, while also long jumping for her school’s track team. One way or another, she told herself, she’d showcase those athletic talents in the Olympic Games.
A year ago, as the country observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Hoffman quoted the renowned civil rights leader on her Instagram.
“You can kill the dreamer, but you can’t kill the dream.”
As it turned out, her dream was almost to fruition.
A little over a month later, Hoffman, at age 32, dug her spikes into the icy track north of Beijing and made her Olympic debut as a bobsledder. One day and four blazing runs later, Hoffman, a push athlete, and pilot Elana Meyers Taylor were Olympic bronze medalists.
“It all started with that dream, and with that pursuance of, ‘I want to be this when I grow up,’” Hoffman said.
Hoffman, a Black woman, has long taken inspiration from King. And as a Black athlete competing in a predominantly white winter sport, she understands her significance. Building up that foundation for the next generation is a priority.
As the country observes Martin Luther King Jr. Day again today, Hoffman perhaps best embodies King’s legacy through another of his famous quotes: “I have a dream.”
“You can do anything that you set your mind to. As long as you actually try, anything can happen” Hoffman, now 33, said. “So I try to look at that with Martin Luther King Day, because it was more than just words or a person that was trying to lead a movement at the time. It was saying, hey if you want to do something, do it with all your heart and see what happens. Because if you never do, you’ll never find out.”
Hoffman has lived that mentality for the past two decades.

Born in Philadelphia but raised mostly in Arlington, Texas, Hoffman’s journey to the Olympics was nothing if nontraditional. After playing college basketball for LSU Shreveport, an NAIA school, she pursued her Olympic dream as a professional weightlifter. After eight years of that, in 2018, she transitioned into bobsledding — an opportunity that arose because she noticed an advertisement for a reality TV athlete talent search near her home in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Elana Meyers Taylor and Sylvia Hoffman celebrate during the 2-woman finals at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 19, 2022 in Yanqing, China.

 

Though she didn’t win, she showed enough in NBC’s “The Next Olympic Hopeful” show to earn an opportunity with the U.S. bobsled team. By the end of the year she had made her debut on the world cup level. Four years later she was wearing an Olympic medal.
In the spirit of King, Hoffman hasn’t stopped dreaming.
An Olympic Games marks the end of one four-year quad, but also the beginning of a new one.
With four years to prepare for the Olympic Winter Games Milano Cortina 2026, Hoffman is pursuing a continuation of her Olympic career but this time in the front of the sled, as a pilot in both the two-woman and monobob events.
All the while, Hoffman dusted off her long jumping shoes this past summer — 15 years after she last competed in high school — and discovered, hey, she’s still pretty good at that sport, too.
Bobsled athletes, almost as a rule, come to the sport following a successful career competing in a different sport. Hoffman can’t help but dream of turning that paradigm on its head and going from elite bobsledding to elite track and field.
Only six athletes have medaled in both the Summer and Winter Games.
“It’s a pretty small group of people,” Hoffman said. “I’m like, if I could be that (seventh) person, heck, that’s going to be really cool. And you never know if you never try.”
The focus, first and foremost, is on bobsled, though.
Already among the world’s best bobsled starters, Hoffman opened the season by winning the national push title in the pilot category. That’s the easy part. The transition to the driver’s seat is immense, but one Hoffman’s been preparing for. A computer information systems major who worked as an engineer, she approaches the sport with an analytical mindset and had already been studying the world’s bobsled tracks.
So far this season, while competing on the lower-level North American Cup and Europe Cup circuits, she’s recorded a pair of podium finished across five starts and is making progress toward an eventual return to the world cup.
The road to another Olympics is long. Hoffman, in prioritizing both her mental and physical health, believes she can do it.
“I’m like, I still have potential,” she said. “Where is that going to go?”


Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic Movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
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