He and his childhood best friend, Gilles Morin, along with two of their four-man bobsledding teammates, are featured on the cover of the 25 cent issue of SI with the headline, “Down the Ice at 95 MPH.”
Hoffer, who moved to Tupper Lake in 1964 to teach physical education at the Tupper Lake High School, where he worked for 33 years, grew up in Saranac Lake.
He said that during his childhood, the community of Saranac Lake was “the hub of bobsledding,” and thanks to his pal, Morin, whose father Lucian was a bobsled timer at Mount Van Hoevenberg, he was drawn into the sport in 1958. At the time, he said he did it because “if you lived in Saranac Lake, you tried bobsledding,” but he had no idea where it would take him.
Hoffer graduated from Saranac Lake High School in 1958 and went on to earn his bachelor of arts degree in physical education at SUNY Cortland in 1962. While studying at Cortland, he played football and was an undefeated SUNYAC javelin thrower for three out of his four years, holding a throwing record of 212 feet from 1962 to 1982.
However, despite his loaded academic and athletic schedule, he managed to pursue his bobsledding career, which wasn’t always easy.
“I had to hitchhike home and then had to hitchhike back,” Hoffer said of traveling home to the North Country from Cortland for bobsled training and competitions.
According to Hoffer, as the years went on, he continued to move up through the ranks, and in 1965, the hard work paid off. He and his two-man bobsled partner, Larry McKillip, also of Saranac Lake, qualified for the 1965 world championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Hoffer said that he and McKillip did fairly well in the preliminaries, but unfortunately tipped over in one of the final heats and McKillip was injured, so they did not finish.
“It was a very exciting experience,” he said. “It’s like the Olympics, it was very intense.”
But, shortly after his experience at the world championships, Hoffer started looking for a safer style of recreation.
“It was probably because I got a little smarter,” Hoffer said of why he called it quits. “I saw people get hurt really bad, and my daughter Heidi was born, so it really didn’t seem right to continue.”
Therefore, following his exit from bobsledding, it was a natural fit for Hoffer to focus his efforts on training student athletes, and again, he set his goals high. At SUNY Cortland, Hoffer was educated on the benefits of weight training, which at the time was contrary to the common knowledge that it caused muscle tightness and was to be avoided by athletes.
However, Hoffer went against the grain and presented his ideas of running a weight-training program to his boss, TLHS Athletic Director Frank Tice.
“He was behind it 100 percent, because he believed in stronger athletes and that if our athletes were bigger, faster and stronger, that they would have more of a chance to be successful,” Hoffer said. “We were known for our weight program for years and years. That’s one of the biggest things I brought to the school.”
According to Hoffer, the program was originally designed for football players and track and field athletes in throwing events, but grew to include a wide range of male and female students. The program also jump started Tupper Lake hosting state and international weightlifting competitions, as well as motivating TLHS athletes to participate in competitions throughout the state.
Although Hoffer retired from teaching at TLHS in 1995, he is still doing his part to help Tupper Lake students understand the benefits of a healthier lifestyle. For the past three years, he has led the Polar TriFit testing program for students in grades four through 12. Each year, students receive an individual assessment of their health risks, cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, flexibility and body-fat composition.
“It’s very interesting now, because we have amassed over 5,000 assessments,” Hoffer said. “The kids like it. They look over your shoulder and want to know the statistics.”
By listening to his stories, it’s clear Hoffer teaches students to live an active life by example. His list of accomplishments as an athlete and coach fall into the sports of bobsledding, weightlifting, football, track and field, baseball and hockey, which earned him the honor of being the lone person to be inducted into both the SLHS and TLHS hall of fame.
In his retirement, Hoffer has not slowed down one bit. After climbing all 46 Adirondack High Peaks in a single year, Hoffer is just shy of finishing the peaks a second time and two peaks away from finishing them off three times. He also became the 454th “111er,” which despite its name that holds true to the original list of mountains, means he climbed 115 Northeastern mountains above 4,000 feet in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
“After finishing the 46 peaks, it was a natural thing to look at doing something in a different area,” Hoffer said. “All of the mountains are so interesting. There was always a view off the top of every mountain.”
Similar to most other interests in his life, Hoffer has found a way to become a teacher of outdoor sports by becoming a licensed guide. At anytime during the year, Hoffer could be anywhere from Virginia to Maine, guiding a hiking, paddling, biking or snowshoeing trip for Adirondack Connections, a year-round guiding business owned and operated by Lynn Malerba, of Tupper Lake, who is also a retired physical education teacher from TLHS.
For Hoffer, the guiding experience has opened a new chapter in his pursuit for adventure and challenges.
“It feels like a job because you have to put your own interests aside and make it a worthwhile experience for them,” Hoffer said of the transition from hiking the 46 peaks on his own to guiding people to the summits. “I am having more fun and finding more pleasure by seeing other people attain the 46 peaks. It’s so nice to see and to help people. It’s nice to be able to make it easier for them, because you learn as you go along. You learn how to do the mountains, and which way to do them.”
(Photo — Noelle Short)