We are taking the month of February 2016 to recognize four University of Findlay students who are dealing with a physical condition or disability. As one student said, “This is something I have. It does not define me. Never has. Never will.” As we present an article each week, you’ll come to learn what these students have in common. . . confidence, optimism, empathy and big plans for the future.
Ellen Hoffman sometimes gets strange looks when she uses the elevator in Old Main. That’s because at first glance, Ellen doesn’t seem to have a “disability.” One has to walk with her for a while to notice the limp and a little bit of a struggle to cover the distance between classrooms on the UF campus.
Ellen is a senior public relations major and she has muscular dystrophy.
“If someone’s curious about my condition, I just wish they’d ask,” said Hoffman. “I like to talk. I’ll give them an explanation.”
Surgeons were called in to create hip sockets for Hoffman when her mother noticed that her toddler was rolling instead of crawling. A muscle biopsy was performed and confirmed a diagnosis of muscular dystrophy. While her friends attended pre-school and kindergarten, Hoffman spent years in traction and a full body cast.
“Actually, my best friend taught me to walk at age five,” Hoffman added. “I walked like a penguin, but my mother was pretty astounded. She thought I’d never walk.”
Hoffman not only walks, but also drives and is planning on spending three weeks in Germany next summer. Although there is pain with her condition, it hasn’t deterred her from taking a leadership role on campus. She is serving as president of the UF Chapter, Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) this year and before Christmas break had coordinated “Deck the Trees,” a holiday event that the club resurrected after a year’s hiatus.
“Deck the Trees went very well, but now it’s time to focus on a spring ’16 project,” she laughed.
Growing up in Toledo, Ohio, Hoffman attended a charter school where she was president of the National Honor Society and participated in a school trip to visit all of the Ivy League colleges. She graduated third in her class and was selected as a school ambassador. Still, the other students often chided and made fun of her. She had severe scoliosis, which complicated her ability to move easily.
“When I started playing volleyball and they saw what a struggle it was for me, they stopped teasing me. I played most of the time I was in high school and did pretty well,” she recalled.
After graduation, Hoffman enrolled at UF, initially majoring in pre-veterinary medicine. She chose Findlay because of the program’s reputation and because she would “be a name and not a number.” She was also very familiar with the community, having visited Findlay frequently as a child.
“I did have to admit that muscular dystrophy would probably not allow me to work with large animals, so I changed majors to public relations. I like to write and it seemed like a good fit.”
In addition to a busy class schedule and her duties with PRSSA, Hoffman works part time at The Children’s Museum of Findlay. She enjoys interacting with the staff and the young visitors. The position is preparing her for her “dream job,” working in public relations for a non-profit organization like the Toledo Zoo or the Imagination Station, also a Toledo destination spot for families.
A genetic neuromuscular disease, muscular dystrophy affects smooth muscle tissue, causing deterioration and joint fixation. Hoffman has had heel cord surgery made necessary because of contractures in her ankle joints. The surgery prevents “ballet toes” which would hamper her ability to walk. For now, there is no cure and the disease is progressive. She is not expected to walk after age 50.
“I don’t like being different, but I’m happy,” she said thoughtfully. “There are other people who have it a lot worse than I do and they’re still happy.”
As commencement approaches, Hoffman doesn’t focus on her disability, but on her dreams of a career and making plans for the future. She is filled with ideas, hopes and enthusiasm. Ellen Hoffman has a lot to share. Just ask her!