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Sylvia Hoffman was 12 years old when doctors noticed a 39-degree curve in her spine—almost 30 degrees more than the top of the normal range. The diagnosis, scoliosis, left the active kid wondering whether her nascent sports career was already over. Seventeen years later, the Colorado Springs resident is on the brink of becoming an Olympic athlete.
Sports fans (and anyone else near a TV) will find out whether Hoffman makes one of eight U.S. teams when the two-part documentary Scouting Camp: The Next Olympic Hopeful airs on NBC November 24 and 25. In its second season, the program follows 90 people who auditioned to try out for the Olympics through a partnership between 24 Hour Fitness and the U.S. Olympic Committee. Finalists undergo a week of training, and Olympic coaches then choose eight participants for sports that include skeleton, cycling, and rugby.
Unlike most of the competitors, though, Hoffman’s done more than a few squats. She played basketball at Louisiana State University Shreveport, despite wearing a back brace for 16 to 18 hours a day, and took up weightlifting after her scoliosis kept her out of the Air Force. Within a year, Hoffman was competing on the international weightlifting circuit, eventually training alongside other potential Olympians as part of the Olympic Training Center’s resident-athlete program—until it was cut. She then missed a chance to join the U.S. skeleton squad because she was afraid her ’98 Ford Mustang wouldn’t survive the drive to a tryout in Lake Placid, New York.
All the false starts meant Hoffman was determined to take advantage of this opportunity. She jumped 30.75 vertical inches and completed 15 pull-ups to earn an invitation to the final stage of Scouting Camp. “If you have an ailment of some sort,” the 29-year-old says, “whatever your dreams are, still go for them.”