If a book was ever written about Zeb Hoffman, he has an idea of what the title would be.
“My wife and I were joking the other night,” Hoffman said. “She was like, ‘If you ever have a biography written about you, it would be called, ‘I just figured it out.’ ”
Hoffman’s wife, Katie, says that’s true in every aspect of his life.
“He just has that drive to be better at anything he does,” she said. “This is just an example.”
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Hoffman — a 36-year-old junior at The Evergreen State College — is a self-taught hammer thrower on the school’s track and field team.
He tossed a school-record distance of 196 feet, 6 inches at the Saint Martin’s University Open last weekend and is currently the top-ranked thrower in the nation in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics division.
He was also named the Cascade Collegiate Conference’s athlete of the week after this past weekend’s effort, which qualified him for the NAIA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Gulf Shores, Alabama, in May.
“Everyone’s been really supportive,” Hoffman said. “It’s an odd event, for sure … but they’ve all been really happy that I’m doing well and that I’m supporting the college.”
This is Hoffman’s second time around at Evergreen. He was a student at the college for “a year and some change” after he graduated from Capital High School in 1998.
It’s his second time around in track and field, too.
He threw shot put and discus at Capital after Katie, then a weight training classmate of Hoffman’s, convinced him to join the team. He continued with the sport after she graduated, and developed an interest in the hammer throw after attending a camp at the University of Oregon.
“I remember coming back from that, too, and I told my coaches at Capital, ‘I want to throw the hammer,’ ” Hoffman said. “They said, ‘Too bad. We don’t have the hammer in high school.’ They were like, ‘Just get really good at the shot put and the discus, and go to college and you can throw the hammer then.’ ”
He enrolled at Evergreen the first time without a clear direction, and nowhere to compete — Evergreen did not have a track and field program then.
“I just wasn’t in the right mindset for college ...,” Hoffman said. “I think to be successful at Evergreen you really have to know what you want to do, and you’ve got a good idea of the path of how to get there.
“For people that are really motivated, that’s a really strong point for Evergreen. But for me, at the time, it was this huge obstacle.”
Hoffman left Evergreen, and studied at South Puget Sound Community College for a quarter before moving into a friend’s fraternity at the University of Washington.
“I was miserable in Olympia,” Hoffman said. “I’d spent 19 years of my life here and I wanted to leave, like many kids, they just want to get out. So I just dropped everything and moved to Seattle.”
He briefly studied at Seattle Central before school gave way to full-time work and social interactions.
“I just kind of resigned myself to the fact that I’m not going to get a college degree,” Hoffman said. “It’s just not going to happen.”
Track and field was a distant memory at that point. Hoffman spent time working at the Washington National Primate Research Center at the UW as an animal tech. He then moved on to work security for many of Seattle’s music venues like Neumos, El Corazon and Showbox Sodo.
That’s where he re-met Katie.
“I was moonlighting at the Showbox,” Hoffman said. “They were having a heavy metal show at the Showbox and they said, ‘Would you like to come and work?’ I said, ‘Oh yeah, that would be great, because I wanted to see that show anyway.’ I ran into her there and got her number. We started dating and got married and had a kid.”
Hoffman started throwing again seven years ago, around the time his son, Joe, was born.
“I wanted to be this example for him,” Hoffman said. “I didn’t want to be the dad that sits at home and drinks beer and yells at the TV on Monday night.
“I’d much rather annoy him by dragging him to track meets and dragging him out to training than being the dad that talks about, ‘I could have done this, I could have done that.’ ”
Hoffman and his wife sat Joe on a bed sheet laid out on the same fields where they started practicing shot put again. When Hoffman discovered the hammer throwing pit at West Seattle Stadium in 2008 — the only venue in the city at that point that had a public throwing pit — he and his son kept at it.
“I would give him a bottle and put him in the stroller and walk around the track with him until he would fall asleep during the day,” Hoffman said. “And then while he was taking his nap, I would try to throw. That’s when I started throwing the hammer.”
Martin Bingisser — a former UW thrower and member of the Swiss national team, who now coaches Hoffman remotely from Switzerland — frequently ran into Hoffman at the stadium.
Bingisser now develops training plans and provides technical advice remotely from video clips that Hoffman provides.
“Zeb’s dedication, drive, and work ethic make me want to work with him,” Bingisser said. “I knew that from when we first met and he was pulling triple duty as an athlete, watching over a baby ringside, coming off a night shift at work. He will do what it takes.”
Hoffman re-enrolled at Evergreen last summer, with the intent to become a strength and conditioning coach upon graduating. He is pursuing a liberal arts degree with an emphasis in exercise science.
“It just kind of came back around,” Hoffman said. “And now that I’m at Evergreen, I have that focus. It’s kind of this annoying laser-focus, I think, to some — this is what’s going to happen, this is what I want to do, and now I know how to get there.”
Which is essential: Hoffman is Evergreen’s only male thrower. He approached Geoducks assistant coach, Chris Ertman, about joining the program before moving back to Olympia.
“We had no hammer, no shot put, no discus, javelin, anything like that,” Ertman said. “I was very honest with him, saying we’ve never had throws since I’ve been here. You’d have to be self-taught or self-coached.
“The great thing about Zeb was, he said that’s absolutely fine with me.”
Hoffman took second in the weight throw (64-11.5) at the NAIA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Tennessee last month.
“They were super excited that I was going out and representing the college on a national level — that was really cool,” Hoffman said.
Bingisser said Hoffman’s strength and consistency has improved to the point where he can continue to be successful at a national level.
“He’s always been a big, strong, powerful athlete, but what has really improved in the last couple years is his ability to move the hammer well,” Bingisser said. “Being able to take that force and get it into the hammer. There are a ton of strong guys who go down to the local gym and are really strong, powerful guys, but not all of them can throw the hammer far. It requires a real special skill set.”
Hoffman just figured it out. He does that all the time. He’s also developed a line of leather throwing gloves that he sells on his website: pushthrowinggloves.com.
“He just never was given the opportunity to (throw) at a collegiate level because of having to go to work, and not really excelling the first time around in college,” Katie said. “At first, I just thought it would be good for him for exercise. Now, it’s kind of a way to get back that time he never got to have.”
But time isn’t much of a factor for Hoffman. He threw in Masters meets (USA Track and Field competitions for athletes 30 and older) before re-enrolling at school. There’s no age limit there.
“This is something I can do for the rest of my life,” he said. “For me, it’s a lifestyle. It’s not, ‘I’m going to get to this point and then I’m going to stop.’ ”