Feature by Carrie Moore
BROOKINGS, South Dakota, June 22. LIVING in an area with limited swimming opportunities, South Dakota State's Alexandra Hoffman took a different approach. Her hometown of Eureka, South Dakota, did not have a public pool, so her grandfather, Leroy Hoffman, built one for the family. Then in 1993, Alexandra's mother, Holly, started the Eureka Area Swim Team, with practices taking place in the Hoffman's 20' x 40' sized pool.
"At the time, the kids on the team never really thought anything of it," Alexandra said. "That was the only pool that we had so we made it work."
Alexandra cites this as one of the biggest obstacles she's had to overcome in her swimming career. But her perseverance and determination keeps her going, in and out of the pool.
Alexandra started swimming for South Dakota State University in 2007, after she transferred from the University of Minnesota. She currently holds five individual short course yard school records: 50 freestyle (24.07), 100 freestyle (52.82), 200 freestyle (1:52.47), 100 backstroke (58.72), and the 200 backstroke (2:04.49). She also shares two team relay records: 200 medley relay (1:47.61) and the 800 freestyle relay (7:43.35).
Her success in life is not limited to the pool. Alexandra was crowned Miss South Dakota in 2008, for which she sat out that swimming season. She placed in the Top 15 at the show's final contest, Miss America, in Las Vegas.
Her platform as Miss South Dakota, ironically enough, incorporated sports. "Don't Risk It: Keep Sports Healthy" encourages safe sports and healthy competition — without the use of performance-enhancing drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Alexandra visited more than forty schools and challenged students to remain healthy amongst competition.
Alexandra began entering pageants as a junior in high school. She finished in the top 15 at the Miss South Dakota Teen USA, and only wanted to further her progress. She re-entered the pageant the following year, this time taking the title of Miss South Dakota Teen USA. She flew to Palm Springs to compete in the final pageant; although she did not walk away a winner, Alexandra took a lot away from her experience, which came in handy for the next pageant.
Alexandra won the title of Miss South Dakota State University in 2007 and from there she went on to compete for Miss South Dakota, 2008. Before the pageant even began, people doubted her as a competitor, labeling her as a "rookie."
"My plan was to just go out there and have a great time," she said. "When I won I just stood there, not really knowing what to do. I hadn't prepared myself for that moment, simply because I was told a rookie usually doesn't win!"
Alexandra took the following year off from swimming and her studies, devoting herself to her duties as Miss South Dakota, and concentrating on the upcoming Miss America contest.
"I was voted into the Top 15 at the Miss America pageant by a public vote, which was definitely an honor," she said. "I had the experience of a lifetime!"
Alexandra attributes her pageant success to her career in swimming. "I think swimming prepared me for pageants," she said. "Swimming is a mental sport, and your body needs to be in great shape to be able to perform. The same thing is true for pageants — you need to be both physically and mentally prepared for the competition; it's really a mind game!"
But apart from her records and pageant wins, Alexandra is most proud of her 3.9 GPA.
"I have never been that student that just ‘got it,'" she said. "I have always had to work hard and study many hours to perform well on exams. My GPA is one of my biggest accomplishments."
Alexandra also participated in other sports, including cross-country, track and field, basketball, and softball.
"I have always loved the thrill of competition, and absolutely love sports." But throughout everything, swimming has always been her favorite.
"My favorite thing about swimming is the freedom you have in the water," she said. "Ever since I can remember, jumping into the water made me forget about everything else. That bad day that I may have been having seems to just disappear."
Swimming has also influenced Alexandra in other areas, making her a tough competitor in everything she does.
"No matter what it is, I always push myself to be better. Regardless of how I perform in school, sports, or in my hobbies, I am constantly pushing myself to be faster, stronger, and smarter."
Alexandra plans on taking the LSAT (Law School Admittance Test) this fall and applying to law schools across the country. She wants to be a family lawyer with a private firm. And as for swimming, Alexandra will always enjoy the sport and keep partaking in it, either as a competitor or a fan.
Even though she may not pursue a professional career in the sport, she still offers advice for anyone yearning for success like hers.
"There have been times in my life where I know that I didn't give 100 percent, and that is something that bothers me everyday," she said. "Don't hold back! Whatever you do in life, give your very best and try as hard as you can."
Alexandra's perseverance may have started in a tiny backyard pool in South Dakota, but it shows no signs of stopping there.