By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Tucson-born Steven Hoppe survived a tumultuous childbirth, a serious motorcycle crash and cancer. To inspire others, he is appearing on NBC’s The Titan Games, which debuts on Thursday, January 3.
“Curveballs are thrown at you in life,” says Hoppe, now a Mesa firefighter. “I’m a survivor. I have four kids – twin girls who were 10 months old at the time – and my wife was still going through the process of all that when I was diagnosed with cancer.
“It made me stronger.”
In The Titan Games, competitors push their bodies to the limit by battling opponents in head-to-head challenges, designed by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Winners advance to the ultimate challenge of Mount Olympus, the consummate athletic test of speed, strength, agility and endurance. In each episode, the male and female competitors who conquer Mount Olympus will become a titan. In the end, the titans return to battle each other. One woman and one man will be crowned titan champions.
Hoppe, 38, found out about the competition from a Super Bowl commercial.
“I went online and read about what he was looking to do,” he says. I applied and had to do a video application. I also filled out two to three pages of questions. It took about two weeks. They wanted pretty in-depth details on my life story.
“They definitely asked a lot of personal questions. They tried to make me think about things I’ve done in life, like key events and significant things.”
His key events are significant. His mother suffered complications during childbirth at Tucson Medical Center, leaving Hoppe ill.
“When I was born, I was not supposed to live past three days,” he says. “Because of it, I lost my high-pitch hearing and I had some learning disabilities as a kid. I was held back in the second grade.”
After high school in San Jose, California, Hoppe returned to Arizona to play football for ASU but suffered a career-ending, nonsports-related leg injury. He parlayed his football knowledge into a special teams coaching job with Dennis Green in the United Football League. In 2016, while in the emergency room after a motorcycle crash, doctors uncovered cancer.
“My mom survived cancer twice. She was told she was going to die twice,” he added.
“A lot of things have happened. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in life. There are a lot of people I can help with my story. That’s the whole purpose behind what I’m doing. I enjoy competing and what The Rock stands for. He’s inspirational himself and he seems to be pretty genuine in what his aspirations are and what he’s trying to do.”
Hoppe didn’t have a chance to interact with Johnson often, as the show kept the athletes separated from the former WWE Superstar.
“He did come into the tent once and gave a little speech about how excited he was that we were there,” Hoppe says. “We were all hand chosen and chosen for this event for specific reasons. I had a brief 15 to 20 seconds as I was walking off the stage. Overall, the interaction between the athletes and him was very minimal.”
Hoppe couldn’t reveal how he fared in the tough competition, but he did say it was a “phenomenal experience.”
“It was definitely something I’ve never been a part of,” he says.
“It was exciting to see how the film industry worked, the back part of it. I enjoyed meeting people who have similar mindsets on the competition side of things. It was an unbelievable life experience. The attitudes were definitely contagious.”