After a brush with death, UAA alum David Hoffman’s life changed forever. In 1990, David had just been hired by the Anchorage Police Department, was in love with his job and happy with life, but during a routine work out at the gym, disaster struck.
“I was lifting weights when a blood vessel burst on the left side of my head,” David said.
Within a few minutes, David lost all motor function of the entire left side of his body; it was paralyzed. According to David’s doctors, about one in 10,000 people are born with a malformed mass of blood vessels that will eventually rupture at some point in their lifetime. David’s erupted at age 28.
When David arrived at the hospital he was unconscious. “Everyone thought I was a goner,” he said.
After brain surgery, David woke up a few days later and knew his life wouldn’t be the same. “I was uncertain as to whether my law enforcement career was over. No one could give me an exact prognosis.”
David grew up in Colorado where he fell in love with the outdoors. He loved to fish, ski, hunt, camp, canoe. But he found his real passion and talent in cross country skiing and running. “Long-distance endurance sports seemed to suit my personality,” he said. When Tom Besh, a friend of David’s high school coach, invited him to try out for the UAA program, he jumped at the chance. “I’d been to Alaska in the mid-70s and loved it. It seemed like the perfect fit for me.”
At UAA, David excelled as a Seawolf student-athlete. He was elected by his teammates as captain of the cross country ski team in 1984 and voted as the most valuable runner on the cross country running team in 1985.
If he wasn’t practicing or studying, David was spending time with his teammates or that was until a new cross country skier named Tiina Kantola joined the Seawolves. They began dating, became engaged and married in Tiina’s native Finland in 1985.
David received his bachelor’s degree in justice in 1985 and was immediately hired by the Kenai Police Department, where he worked five years, until he joined the Anchorage Police Department. In the months following the accident, he gradually realized active field duties were no longer going to be an option–he’d have to find something else to do. The Anchorage Police Department offered David an administrative job, but he said he couldn’t take it. “I couldn’t watch my colleagues go out the door every day to do the job I’d fallen in love with. It would have been too hard. I reassessed the values in my life and decided to go back to school.”
In 1992, David and Tiina decided to move to Finland. “We needed something a break from what happened to us for a little while. Our plan – in the beginning – was always to go back to Alaska.”
David attended the University of Jyväskylä and received a master’s degree in Social and Public Policy. He eventually began teaching classes in intercultural communication and realized that he really enjoyed working in higher education. “I saw the instructors had the cool job—teaching, researching and watching students earn their degrees and progress in life. That’s when I decided to get my Ph.D.”
David is now a senior researcher at the Finnish Institute of Educational Research at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. His interests include international comparative higher education, intercultural communication, international migration and ethnic relations.
Looking back on his time at UAA, David said UAA changed his path in life. “I loved every minute I lived in Alaska. UAA taught me so much and is really a great school. It was one of the best times in my life.”