FAIRMONT - In 2010, a 44-year-old swim coach from the small town of Eureka, S.D., embarked on the ultimate physical and psychological challenge as a contestant on the CBS reality show "Survivor."
During her time competing for $1 million prize in Nicaragua, Holly Hoffman learned about endurance and the strength of faith.
Hoffman will share her story at a benefit luncheon May 3 at Bethel Evangelical Free Church in Fairmont. Funds raised are designated for House of Hope, a non-profit drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Fairmont and Mankato.
"What I learned from being on the reality show, I have been able to apply to the real world of survival," Hoffman said.
Fans of the show might remember her breakdown and wanting to quit, that she was on the same "over 40" team as former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, or that she was the last member of her original tribe, the oldest contestant and the only female in the final four.
Even if you've never seen the show, Hoffman's message transcends gender and age.
"Through her great work ethic, charisma and overall positive attitude, she embodies what it means to be a successful person," Johnson said of his former teammate. "If there was an NFL draft for a winning attitude, Holly would be my first round draft pick."
After the show, Hoffman wrote a book entitled "Your Winner Within: Own Your Power, Your Attitude and Your Life" and has traveled throughout the country as a motivational speaker, addressing groups of 25 to 2,000, from FFA students to big corporations.
Kay Schellpepper of Fairmont read about Hoffman a few years ago.
"I tucked her name into the back of my mind," she said.
Schellpepper was undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia at the time. When she went into remission, she remembered Hoffman and wanted to know more. A little Internet research and a phone call prompted Schellpepper to book her for a speaking engagement in Fairmont.
At the time, Schellpepper had a date and place for the program, but no recipient. She began to inquire about various non-profits that could benefit.
One of Hoffman's signature statements is: "Never give up! Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending."
"When I went to the House of Hope, that same saying was on the wall," Schellpepper said. She knew she had found a perfect recipient for the funds.
She calls the benefit "multi-focal." A celebrity and author will make a Fairmont appearance. In addition to receiving funds, House of Hope will benefit by making the community more aware of its services.
"And it's definitely going to benefit anyone who hears her," Schellpepper said. "She definitely has a message for the teenage circuit, and it would be a fun mother/daughter day."
After surviving Nicaragua and speaking throughout the country, Hoffman said: "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. It's really how we survive hardships in our lives, that once you get through them, you are a stronger person."
Hoffman's program begins with a PowerPoint presentation about her "Survivor" experience and what she learned, followed by a 30-minute question-and-answer session.
She will have copies of her book available for sale and signing, with $2 from each sale donated to breast cancer research.
The luncheon, which begins at 11:15 a.m., will be catered by Nancy Jo's. Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for students and are available at the Hy-Vee service desk in Fairmont and at various church offices throughout Fairmont and surrounding area. All tickets must be purchased by April 25.
For more information, contact Schellpepper at (507) 235-6412 or (507) 236-1289 or Helen Gould at (507) 235-9124.