Saturday, August 11, 2012

Bronze Medalist Reese Hoffa On Being Adopted

This Olympic athlete prides himself on being different. He doesn't tell the usual childhood story that many of us can tell. In a time, when it's not uncommon to hear about troubled foster kids or adoptive parents struggling to parent the new additions to their family, it's refreshing to learn of a kid that not only goes out and does his parents proud, but his whole country proud. Meet Olympic athlete Reese Hoffa: shot putter, brother, husband, adoptee.

Early this spring I was given the opportunity to interview Olympic athlete, Reese Hoffa.


Reese was born Maurice Antawn Chism on October 8, 1977 in Evans, GA to a young, single mom. He and his older brother lived with their mom until a fire destroyed their home. The then 4-year-old Reese and 6-year-old, Lamont had been playing with a cigarette lighter. Reese started the fire that got out of control.
Weeks after the fire that took everything from the struggling family, the teen mom did what was probably her last option. She drove her boys to the St. Thomas-St. Vincent Orphanage in Louisville, Kentucky and said good bye.

Reese, blamed himself for the abandonment. He will have to wait 19 years to learn that it wasn't his fault. A string of events led to birth mom, Diana Chism, to the orphange that day.

The Adoption

Reese and his brother were taken to a farmhouse in a nearby town 18-months after being left at the orphange. The home was owned by Stephen and Cathy Hoffa. They had four other children, three girls and a boy. The couple spent time with the brothers, but in the end were encouraged to adopt only Reese due to Lamont's behavioral problems.

Hoffa on His Adoption Transition

Carrie Craft - "At first you were reluctant to bond with your adoptive family. It was also mentioned that you have a respect for the family but not love."
Reese - "It was very traumatic to go from an orphange for one year and then to an adoptive family. They insisted that I called them mom and dad. It seemed they forced the mom and dad thing instead of letting it grow into a true family."
Reese's name was changed to Michael Reese Hoffa after adoptive mom asked him if he wanted a new name. He chose Michael after his favorite TV show character from Knight Rider. This change didn't impact him, according to Reese, as he was already called "Reese" which is short for Maurice.
Reese noted that he didn't really interact with his new family. A fact that has been discussed in other interviews. According to Reese he just wanted to do whatever it took not to be abandoned again.
Reese - "I saw my adoptive parents not as mom and dad, but as my protectors. They were just people who were taking care of me. It's generic love, I won't ever have that deep, emotional connection to my adoptive parents."
As we chatted for awhile about different adoption issues, Reese shared that he has that love, that deep, emotional connection to his wife, Renata.

Hoffa on Being Separated from his Brother

Carrie Craft - "As a small child, you used to come up with random numbers to call your brother Lamont. You later learned that he was adopted by a birth aunt. Many siblings are separated by adoption today, how would knowing how your brother was doing while growing up or having some sort of contact with him have helped you as a child?"
Reese - "I would have had someone to relate to. I went to a strictly all white environment. I always felt different. Never saw anyone that looked like myself. I just kind of survived."

Hoffa on Transracial Adoptions

Reese - "I'm all for it , as long as the parents have an understanding of what goes through their [child's] mind. My adoptive parents didn't know how to take care of my hair and skin. A kid is a kid."

Hoffa on His Adoption Reunion

Reese located his birth family through an on-line search registry. He was looking for Lamont, but found his birth mother. Email exchanges eventually led to a face-to-face meeting. Reese recalled feeling out of place and uncomfortable standing with his birth mother and Lamont. His brother and birth mother had already met, formed a relationship and started to heal. He was new to the scene.
He has a better relationship with birth mom today. He feels that he is a lot like her, very ambitious.
Carrie Craft - "You, being a small child, connected the events of the fire and blamed yourself for the abandonment. Did meeting your birth mom help you let this burden go?"
Reese - "Yes. Sure it [the fire] didn't help, but it [the relinquishment] wasn't because of that one event. She was very young, 17 with two kids. She needed a fresh start. She needed to restart her life."
Carrie Craft - "I read that you once mentioned that you were an expert at wondering about your birth family, but not ready for finding. How would you suggest adoptees prepare for the finding? Do you have any words of advice?"
Reese - "Take it slow. It was too much at one time."
Carrie Craft - "Was your adoptive mom intimidated by your search and reunion? How did you set her mind at ease?"
Reese - "She was happy about it. They have met and are very nice to each other."

Hoffa on Sports as an Outlet

Carrie Craft - "Did sports help you at all growing up? Did having a passion or a special strength or skill, help you get through the trauma of your past?"
Reese - "Yes. Sports, that was one thing that I do very well. School, I struggled for awhile. Sports, I was just naturally a stand out when I didn't stand out in the classroom."

Hoffa's Message to Foster or Adopted Youth

Carrie Craft - "I read several times that you want your story to help other kids. How would you like your story to help kids out there? What is your message to kids who are searching for or having a difficult time fitting into their new families?"
Reese - "For kids who have problems in their adoptive families, it's a bad situation. Won't be the same as with your regular family. It really will be the best for you. Learn as much as you can, hopefully, if your adoption experience is as positive as mine, it'll be OK and turn out positive. Take all opportunities put in front of you. If you're going to do it, do it with the best of your ability."

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