NOSARA, COSTA RICA — Standing on the edge of a remote mountaintop crest, overlooking a tree-soaked valley in a rolling panorama of dense green foliage, Morgan Hoffmann stares off toward an uncertain but inspired future, while quietly contemplating the climb it took to get here.
“What if this didn’t happen? I’d still be on the PGA Tour, complaining about making millions of dollars and not being in a nice courtesy car,” Hoffmann says with a laugh. “The path I’ve chosen has been different. It’s weird. It can be made fun of. But it takes courage.”
Here in the Costa Rican jungle, high atop the 275-acre plot of land he purchased and named Nekawa (the word “awaken” spelled backwards) Hoffmann details his plan to build a healing center for people battling disorders, diseases or illnesses that modern western medicine defines as incurable. That includes his disease: Muscular dystrophy.
“You don’t understand the phrase ‘health comes first’ until you experience something that has that weight,” Hoffmann says. “For me, seeing muscle disappear was that trigger.
“Doctors have told me countless times, ‘It’s incurable. Good luck. Go f— yourself.’ That’s not how you treat people.”
With Nekawa, Hoffmann wants to provide hope for the hopeless, light in the darkness. But for now, it’s still just a vision he wants to show me. Doing so requires an hourlong drive in Hoffmann’s black Land Rover SUV, up a washed-out mountain trail. He tells me the average shelf life for most vehicle suspensions around here is two or three years. That initially surprised me. But the further we bobbled up the mountain, the more it made sense. It’s enough to rattle the fillings out of your teeth.
Along this bumpy drive to Nekawa, dwellings are few. There’s a plywood tin roof house here and there. But not much else. We reach a steep, muddy embankment and can drive no further. The end of the road. Time to hop out and hoof it. Good thing our six-man production crew is fit. This would be no simple Sunday stroll.
On his head, Hoffmann wears a black Greyson golf hat, which is adorned with a white rope across the bill and an animated green wolf on its face. His buddy Charlie Schaefer designed the wolf. He and Schaefer co-founded the hat company. Wolves are their thing. Choose the person you want to be every day, seek the best version of self and feed the wolf. Celebrate victories together. Protect the pack.
Most of Hoffmann’s long, wavy blonde hair is tucked up underneath his hat, but a folded clump bursts out the back like a scarecrow’s hand from a flannel shirt in a cornfield. Across his back is an army green backpack with black nylon straps, inside of which there are two glass bottles.
One will soon be filled with Hoffmann’s urine. The other will soon be filled with mine.
In his left hand he carries a thin but sturdy five-foot long walking stick. In his right, he clutches the handle of a machete he’d just sharpened to a shine on the tailgate of that black Land Rover. He is handsome. His features are strong; a square jaw housing a warm, disarming smile that he displays often. He listens more than he speaks. His eye contact cements his presence. His intention to be where his feet are is rare.
It is the rainy season, so the hike towards the light in the clearing demands a slog through sketchy trenches filled with deep red mud and runny piles of cow excrement. Hoffmann ducked through gnarled vines and lush foliage, at times thrashing the machete to create space for those who followed.
As I follow him into the unknown, it strikes me how metaphorical this moment is. Because for 10 years, Hoffmann has thrashed through the unknown for answers, from New York to Nepal to Nosara.
It all led him to Nekawa.
And at Nekawa, there is light in the clearing. Not just for him, but for those who follow.
“Look at the leaves. They die in autumn, and they fall down and feed the ground and the mushrooms, and then beetles come and eat that. And then the birds eat the beetles, and the circle of life is just so beautiful,” he explains, using the machete as a pointer to display examples. “The human body is nature. That’s why I believe we have everything we need here to heal ourselves. It’s just frustrating when people say, ‘Oh, you’re doing alternative medicine, that’s so cool.’ I’m like, actually, this is the original medicine. This has been around for thousands of years. And now you’re telling me that the medicine that was invented 100 years ago is [superior] to this? I just don’t buy it.”
As he speaks, rain droplets periodically drip from his hat bill.
Tears drip from his eyes.
“There’s just so much more to life,” he says. “It’s not about a sport. It’s not about making money. At the professional level, yeah, we’re getting paid. And, yeah, it’s our job. But if you break it down, we’re just entertainers for the masses. And it’s a distraction for people to focus on what we really are, and that’s energetic, beautiful, loving, caring beings that have more power than you can ever imagine.
“And now that I know that, and now that I’ve seen people do miraculous things and be incredible beings, and exude love, and change, and heal, and the hurt that I’ve seen and felt, is so much more than hitting a good shot or a bad shot on the golf course.”
IN A FORMER life, that was the antithesis of Hoffmann’s thought process. In 2009, Hoffmann was the No. 1 amateur golfer in the world. He was a three-time All American in the storied Oklahoma State University golf program. As a Cowboy, he was teammate to Rickie Fowler, Talor Gooch and his roommate in Stillwater, Peter Uihlein. Each of them was destined for the PGA Tour, and Hoffmann shined among stars.
“Morgan was a great player,” Fowler, a five-time winner on the PGA Tour, tells ESPN. “Great ball striker. I always knew he was a good player, and he had plenty of accomplishments as a junior golfer. Same thing through college.”
After three years in Stillwater, Hoffmann turned professional in 2011.
“We were all there [at Oklahoma State] as our stepping stone to ultimately make it to the PGA Tour,” Fowler says. “I always knew what Hoff was capable of. But until someone actually makes it to the PGA Tour, nothing’s ever guaranteed.”
Ultimately in Hoffmann’s case, the only guarantees were hurt, disappointment and confusion.
The highlight of his professional career came in the closing weeks of the 2014 season, when a series of high finishes qualified him for that season’s Tour Championship. By rule, he thereby earned entrance into all four major championship tournaments in 2015.
“Fearless. I think at the time, one of my big things was the phrase, ‘No fear,'” Hoffmann says. “Played aggressively and went at flags. I knew that my game was good enough to be in contention each week. And I felt like I could definitely win on Tour.”
Fowler remembers Hoffmann as relentless in the pursuit of his dreams.
“He wasn’t going to fail,” Fowler says. “That wasn’t in his DNA. He knew what he wanted to accomplish, where he wanted to be. And he was going to do whatever it took to get there.”
But during those early years on the PGA Tour, Hoffmann was fighting a silent battle with his body. Obstacles arose beyond the normal grind in the climb, and far beyond his control or understanding. Answers were fleeting.
AROUND THE TIME he turned professional, while living in Fowler’s spare bedroom in Jupiter, Florida, Hoffmann says he noticed muscle atrophy in his right pectoral muscle. The first true indicator of trouble was a photograph. Hoffmann, Fowler and some of their friends had gone deep sea fishing, and Hoffmann nabbed a weighty cobia. In the photograph taken afterward, he noticed a glaring, inch-long section of atrophy in his chest. He assumed he’d torn a muscle. But the atrophy continued to advance, and his performance on the golf course began to decline.
“From that day on it just kept getting worse,” Hoffmann says. “And as I saw my numbers keep decreasing, in club head speed, ball speed, that’s when I was like, ‘F—, this is serious.’ It just continued to start from my sternum and go towards my underarm. I would have dreams at night of, like, these flesh-eating worms or something, like a line of them, just like eating muscle away. And that was silly, obviously. But I had no idea what it was.”
That’s when the exhaustive search for answers began. During a five-year span, whether he played in a golf tournament or not, Hoffmann visited doctors all over the United States. If he was competing at Torrey Pines, he went to Scripps Hospital in La Jolla, California, telling ESPN he “must’ve gotten 50 MRIs.” He says he visited a nerve specialist in Denver who diagnosed an entrapped nerve under his clavicle, and told Hoffmann that, following massage therapy, they expected his issue to be cured within two weeks.
When it didn’t work, Hoffmann says he flew back out to Denver from Florida for a follow-up. According to Hoffmann, the doctor didn’t show up. He went to the Mayo Clinic for a battery of tests he says his insurance refused to cover. On his own dime, he says he underwent a stomach biopsy to determine his gut health, a brain scan, multiple electrocardiograms to monitor his heart activity, electromyograms to monitor how his muscles responded to various stimuli. He says he was poked and prodded and shocked. And he says it was all for nothing.
“I was there for five days doing all this terrible treatment, and at the end, they surrounded my bed with 10 doctors,” Hoffmann says. “And the head guy was like, ‘These are all the doctors who have seen your case. We don’t know what it is. Good luck. See ya.’ That went on for five years.”
Finally, Hoffmann made his way to the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York, and a doctor there had a hunch about muscular dystrophy. Hoffmann thought that was ridiculous but agreed to allow HSS doctors to administer blood testing, nonetheless. They told him to expect results in two weeks. Five months later the phone rang. It was HSS.
“He was like, ‘Yeah, it’s FSHD,'” Hoffmann says. “‘It’s an incurable disease. And there’s nothing we can do. Good luck.’ I’m like, ‘What does that mean? Where do I go? What do I do?’ He tells me there’s a specialist in Miami that is the best MD specialist. Go see him. Then he’s like, ‘But you can’t change your genes.’ And I’m like, ‘All right … F—.'”
His wife, Chelsea Hoffmann adds, “At that point, his body looked skeletal. It was just skin and bone, and it was very clear that there was no muscle left in those areas.”
Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) primarily degenerates muscles of the face, chest, shoulder blades and upper arms. According to the Centers for Disease Control, FSHD affects approximately four in 100,000 people, and does not typically impact life expectancy.
Following the diagnosis, Hoffmann told his family the news and began to research. What he found was terrifying. He tells ESPN that “Why me?” became a prevalent narrative in his life. He was scared and worried and sad. Here he was in his prime, at the pinnacle of his profession, living his lifelong dream on the PGA Tour. And now this.
He flew to Miami to meet with Dr. Mario Saporta, the respected neurologist and MD specialist suggested by HSS. Hoffmann says Saporta agreed with the HSS diagnosis, and even told Hoffmann the left pectoral muscle had also begun to atrophy.
“They’re like, yeah, come back in 10 years — it doesn’t look bad right now, but come back when it gets bad and we’ll give you some [physical therapy],'” Hoffmann recalls. “Or, ‘Once you’re in a wheelchair, or have a walker, we can give you some exercises to do.’ That’s when I was like, wow, I really want to punch these people in the face.
“That’s when I turned my back on the medical community.”
ESPN ATTEMPTED TO contact Dr. Saporta for insight regarding Hoffmann’s belief that his methods of healing are regenerating his muscle. The requests went unreturned. But ESPN did contact and interview Dr. Nicholas Johnson at Virginia Commonwealth University. Dr. Johnson, who has a masters degree in clinical investigation, told ESPN he focuses exclusively on researching genetic nerve and muscle disorders, such as the muscular dystrophies.
“FSHD is the third most common form of muscular dystrophy,” Dr. Johnson tells ESPN. “It’s caused by a cut at the end of one of your chromosomes, chromosome four. And when that happens, a toxic gene called DUX4 is expressed, and it’s toxic to your muscles.
“So the way I think about it is, if you have a ball of yarn, and you cut the end of it, and it kind of frays. When that frays, that’s what allows that DUX4, which shouldn’t be expressed, to be expressed, and cause damage to muscles.”
Dr. Johnson confirmed to ESPN that FSHD doesn’t typically affect the lifespan of individuals. But in severe cases, patients lose the ability to walk. For the average patient, Dr. Johnson says, weakness develops slowly over time, often eventually requiring a cane or other assistive device in their 20s and 30s, before potentially requiring a walker or wheelchair late in life. All that adds up, he admits, to a troubling diagnosis for a professional golfer.
“When Morgan got that phone call from that [HSS] doctor, letting him know, ‘You have muscular dystrophy, there’s no cure, the end’ — I will probably never forget that day,” Chelsea says. “I just really felt my heart sink into my gut.”
Prior to that phone call, in their minds, the Hoffmanns say medical treatment went something like this: Go see a doctor for an ailment, get a diagnosis, form a treatment plan towards a cure. That was the context they’d always known. The lack of options following Morgan’s diagnosis changed that forever.
That moment, the Hoffmanns say, simultaneously provided troubling confusion, great clarity and a catalyst towards a new reality.
“It was lighting this side of health where people don’t always have an answer from the western world of what’s truly going on with them,” Chelsea says, seated in the clubhouse at Ohoopee Match Club in Cobbtown, Georgia. “That was one of the big reasons why we felt the need to go and explore for ourselves, and stop believing that answers needed to come from outside of ourselves, or from people that we deemed professionals in the field. And come into our own power of exploration and experimentation. So, it ended up being such a beautiful thing.”
“I had to act, and it was more important than anything — my income, my dreams of playing golf. It’s just a game,” Hoffmann says with that disarming grin. “We only have one body in this lifetime, and I’d love to get it right. This is my personal journey. I’m not telling people to do this. I’m not trying to direct people on how to live their lives. This is just my own way. It was the only way to do it. I was so upset, and so mad, and treated disrespectfully in my eyes. So, I was like, ‘There’s a way. This is not incurable.'”
Getting it right would be a challenge, and require a completely new normal. It meant leaving the PGA Tour and going everywhere and anywhere he might find help. He studied constantly and says he learned that dormant proteins in his genes, like the DUX4 that Dr. Johnson noted, could be “turned on” by environmental triggers.
“It’s like a light switch,” Hoffmann explains. “It can be turned on and off. I’m very visual. So when I visualize something, I can obtain it. If I visualize how my body reacts, and the electronics that it creates when you have a chemical released in your brain, then you can send those energies to certain parts in your body that are turned off, and recreate them and rebuild them and turn them back on. That’s what I believe. And that’s why I went on this journey to find natural cures, and to turn off this gene.”
HOFFMANN DRAMATICALLY CHANGED his diet. He had his blood tested for toxicity, and says his system was high in pesticides and heavy metals, which he believes is due to so much time spent on the golf course and a college diet of buffalo wings, soda and boxes of sugary cereal. The testing told him his body was acidic. At the same time, Chelsea was managing skin irritations like eczema and psoriasis. So they decided to cleanse their bodies.
“Certain foods can really be astringent, and pull out toxins, and have wild effects on your body,” Hoffman says. “A healing crisis is categorized as extreme fever, throwing up, having old diseases or symptoms like poison ivy or chicken pox come back up, if you haven’t had them since you were a kid. I was like, ‘This sounds insane. How is this gonna happen?'”
Hoffmann started with fruit and herb cleanses. He documented every step. He said his skin and eyes were clearer, indicators, he believes, that his body was receptive to the cleanse due to the connections of both with the human nervous system. He studied iridology and noted how the irises of his eyes had brightened. He says his tongue turned white and his bowel movements were drastically different. He lost 11 pounds in three days. Within a month the chronic acne on his back was completely gone. His mind was clearer than he’d ever experienced.
“I felt like I was floating around,” he says. “This is way different than I’ve ever felt, and I felt like, there’s got to be something here.”
In that same timeframe, Chelsea went to Nepal to support earthquake victims as part of a charity initiative. While there, she learned of a guru who specialized in treating muscular dystrophy. The guru lived in the Himalayas and was very elusive, but was in Nepal treating a man Chelsea said had been in a wheelchair for decades, and within two weeks of treatment he was walking again. She urged Hoffmann to come to Nepal to see the guru before he vanished into the mountains.
Hoffmann dropped everything. He’d eaten nothing but red grapes for 18 straight days. He had no energy. He went anyway. Hoffmann says the guru told him the regimen was 90 days, nonstop, six hours per day, two men rubbing Hoffmann’s body for a full hour with herbs so deeply that it burned and stung his skin. He then laid there for two hours while the rub dried. When dry, he turned over, and the men started the same regimen on the other side of his body.
He wore nothing but uncomfortable blue underwear and stiff white linens. During the drying process, the herbs seeped through the linens and smelled awful. He did this every day for two months. He had high fevers and vomiting spells. He weighed 150 pounds. He could eat no cold foods or drinks. No ice. No cold water. The guru needed him to keep his body warm, Hoffmann says, in the effort to help regenerate the nervous system.
Nothing changed. Discouraged, he called Chelsea, who helped him through the frustration by reminding him that if he quit now, he’d always wonder what impact that final month might have. If he skipped it, he’d never know. It was then that Hoffmann says he realized a crucial element of healing: you have to believe. Hoffmann had done the treatment, but he hadn’t fully committed to believing it would work. During the final month, he went all-in.
“I went into it like, ‘Let’s see what this guy can do. Because I want to cure muscular dystrophy, and I know there’s a cure for muscular dystrophy,'” Hoffmann explains. “I know there’s a cure for many other diseases, if not all diseases, naturally. So, the last month I started believing. I did start seeing muscle firing again. And that’s really what stemmed my belief and path down this natural medicine, and herbals, and tinctures, and food, and organics, and growing your own foods. It definitely helped. If I believed in it more the first two months, I think it would’ve helped a lot more.”
HOPEFUL AFTER THREE months in Nepal, Hoffmann returned to the United States and to the PGA Tour. But his swing speed didn’t return with him. With three medical exemptions left, the search for answers extended inward, from physical to mental, emotional and spiritual. Plant medicine was intriguing, particularly ayahuasca, a plant-based psychedelic.
“I’ve seen so many people heal from crazy things, doing one night of ayahuasca,” Hoffmann says. “Because it’s not the ayahuasca, it’s the way that it opens your mind and allows you to access different parts of your brain, and spirituality, and realms, dimensions, whatever you want to call it.”
Hoffmann, willing to try anything, went to Costa Rica. For four consecutive nights, he and Chelsea partook in ayahuasca.
“It was incredible. It was very, very mind-blowing,” he says. “It also taught me that we have the ability to achieve that state of being, that state of mind, without any plant medicine. I used to think it was a shortcut to the access point, to kind of everything. And now I know it’s just a side door. And the front door is you.”
As he tells me this, we are seated together in a cottage at Dye Preserve Golf Club in Florida. He is back in the States to play some golf and do some business.
I asked for more clarity on the front door becoming the side door.
Inside Marty Smith’s journey into nontraditional medicine with Morgan Hoffmann
Marty Smith dives deep into nontraditional forms of treatment with former PGA Tour golfer Morgan Hoffmann, who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy.
“The side door is plant medicine, ayahuasca, I think, mushrooms,” he says. “They all have this way of just letting the mind release. And when I say ‘release,’ I’m mainly talking about ego. I think in western world the word ‘ego’ is very harshly looked upon. We all need ego for survival skills. But that’s just an identification that we put on ourselves. And without ego, we are anything, and everything, and nothing. Which is wild to say, because like, five years ago I wouldn’t have understood that. And if I was [reading] this interview I’d probably make fun of myself. But it’s the only way I knew how to obtain information that was foreign to me — I’d make fun of it, I’d make a joke of it, because I didn’t know it, I didn’t understand it. And that’s okay.”
Along with plant-based medicine, Hoffmann installed meditation, intentionally quieting the mind, breath work, yoga and visualization into his daily walk. He frequents hourlong ceremonies in a sweat lodge, known as temescal. He also believes urine therapy is an imperative component towards healing his body.
He believes that his muscles are regenerating, and that his body is healing.
“My goal is to in a year, or two years, max, to have all my muscles back,” Hoffmann says. “This is dangerous to say, especially here, but I would love to take a before and after picture of what my muscles were at the worst, and then once I have them fully back, post it for everybody to see. Because I know I’m going to do it.”
Dr. Johnson agrees that there is potential evidence regarding the power of a positive mindset.
“This is a difficult diagnosis, and it’s certainly hard for anybody to hear that they have something that is slowly progressive, and going to rob them of their muscles, particularly in a situation where your muscles are part of how you make your life, or particularly in a situation where muscles are part of what you need for your career,” Dr. Johnson tells ESPN.
“I think we know from, not necessarily in FSHD, but in other related muscular dystrophies or other slowly progressive neuromuscular conditions, that if somebody thinks that they’re doing something that can help them, oftentimes they can accrue a benefit of even 20 percent or 30 percent of change. So, there is weight to be had around the idea that a positive attitude and a focus on mental and physical health can be helpful for the condition.”
Lorraine Lionetti-Hoffmann, like her son, is thoughtful and considerate. She notices a difference in Hoffmann, how he handles himself emotionally and how his convictions have expanded.
“Morgan has changed his path,” Lionetti-Hoffmann tells me in a cottage at Jack Nicklaus’ Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Florida. “It used to be all about golf and winning. And he still wants to win. He still has the desire. He loves the game. He loves golf. But he realizes that there’s more things important to life, especially your health and which path you choose to go on.
“He’s controlling his body through his mind, his spirit, his faith in himself and the direction he’s going in. And I can see a change in his mental attitude. He’s much calmer. He seems to understand himself more. I just think it’s a wonderful thing. He took me to the land [Nekawa] and I saw it. I think the whole process is amazing. He’s such a strong individual, that he surprises me in one sense, and then again not, because he’s always been like that.”
IN SEPTEMBER 2022, an ESPN film crew joined me in documenting Hoffmann’s experience. We flew to Liberia, Costa Rica, then boarded a bus for a three-hour drive to the Nicoya Peninsula. We spent a week with Hoffmann, with the personal goal of immersing myself in his treatment plan, shedding all judgment and learning his truth.
We started with breath work. The hourlong class, led by a breath coach, included various breathing rhythms and intensity to infuse the brain and blood with pure oxygen, while displacing carbon dioxide. The result is a natural high. Eight people laid down on the floor of a gazebo structure with no walls, positioned high above the ridgeline that overlooks the jungle. It is dusk. Laying on our backs, blindfolded on a yoga mat, the breath coach, Gio Bartolomeo, plays soothing tribal music, and heats herbs and spices.
“During breathwork, I’m visualizing my muscles coming back,” Hoffmann says. “I’m visualizing healing for others. I’m trying to get past and get over traumas in my life, as a child or now, or on Tour. And it’s also a meditation. And when you get into that state, especially after breath work, your head’s up in the clouds, you’re floating, you’re open, your energy is just abundant, and you can see so clearly. It’s really beautiful.”
There are four rounds of breathing exercises in this class, one each to celebrate the four fundamental elements of nature: earth, air, water and fire. Breathing cadence is altered based on the round, steadily increasing towards rapidly inhaling from the gut, up through the chest, before exhaling audibly and forcefully.
I felt super high.
My hands and lips tingled then went completely numb. My hands were in a semi-frozen state — I couldn’t bend my fingers easily. I was told that could happen. I felt like I was levitating. I was told that could happen, too, that I would experience a sensation of the floor falling out from underneath me. One moment I laughed hysterically. The next moment I sobbed uncontrollably. I cried so hard, Gio calmly placed his hand on my chest to help me breathe through whatever I was purging.
I wasn’t expecting that. I still don’t know what I was letting go of. But whatever it was, it was intense.
“There’s many different breathwork techniques that can achieve different modalities in what you want to achieve, what your goal is,” Hoffmann says. “If you want to go to bed and you want to sleep better, breathe slower. Fill your lungs up slowly, release the air slowly, relax, close your eyes, think about something beautiful.
“Or to journey into places that are deep, that can bring up old memories, old traumas, and have releases that are deep within your muscles and your fascia. And when you start breathing in certain techniques, and heavily, and some people might categorize it as hyperventilation breathing, or two-part breath, or you are releasing hormones and getting oxygen into places in your body that it hasn’t been possible, ever. It’s been a life-changer for me.”
The next day it was spitting rain when we arrived at the temescal, which is located on the grounds of a holistic detoxification center for folks battling alcohol and drug addiction. We walked through the jungle and down a set of cobblestone stairs to a natural platform where the lodge sat. The sweat lodge itself is a domed clay structure, weathered orange in color, with a cobblestone base and a low ceiling barely tall enough to fit a seated human’s head. The floor is red clay, with a hole dug in the center. A pair of wooden doors separates the ceremony from the outside world. Just outside the temescal a campfire burns. Participants built the fire early that morning. Within the blaze are an array of volleyball-sized lava rocks, which have each been blessed by a shaman for the ceremony and heated in the fire for hours.
When it’s time for the ceremony, approximately 20 people crawl into the sweat lodge on their knees. Ladies enter first. I notice that upon entrance, each person places his or her forehead on the red clay surface. I later learn this is a sign of gratitude to Mother Earth for her providence. Each participant repeats the gesture upon exit. There are probably six or seven ladies. I am the first male to enter, just before Hoffmann. He is seated directly across from the opening and the wooden doors. That is by design, so that ESPN cameras can capture him when the doors open following each round of the temescal ceremony.
Nobody is wearing much clothing. As I find my position, I nestle in alongside singer/songwriter Christa Gifford, who moved with her husband, Luke, and their children from Nashville to Costa Rica to connect with earth and find deeper meaning. These are world class musicians who once toured globally with the Jonas Brothers. I scooch in beside her and sit crisscross-applesauce style. My left knee rests on her right knee. Hoffmann scoots in. His left kneecap presses against my right kneecap. We’re very close to one another.
The temescal ceremony is comprised of four, 20-minute rounds, each one hotter than the previous one. Hotter and hotter stones are taken from the fire by pitchfork and slid individually through the wooden doors into the sweat lodge. At that time, using deer antlers as clutching tools, Shunyam, whom Hoffmann explains is a descendant of the Mexican peyote tribe, a sworn shaman and temescal expert, delicately positions the stones into the pit in the floor. The doors shut. It is pitch black. Shunyam and his wife, also a temescal expert, place sage and other herbs and spices onto the glowing red stones. The smell is wonderful. Shunyam blesses the stones and the ceremony, and then pours water onto the stones.
Steam immediately overwhelms the sweat lodge. My heart rate skyrockets. Borderline panic attack. My initial reaction was to tap-out, to exit the lodge. But using lessons learned the previous evening during breathwork, and lifelong hardheaded competitiveness that disallows me to quit, I breathed through it. It’s hot but not unbearable. I focus on the beautiful indigenous songs being sung by the participants and the rhythm of a drum Shunyam thumps, tribal hymns that fill your soul and empty your mind.
Each person is offered the opportunity to share his or her thoughts or thankfulness. Hoffmann speaks to his gratitude for the opportunity to fellowship with this group, to challenge himself within the beauty of shared sacrifice, to heal his mind and body through time-tested ritual. Another gentleman, a first timer like me named Ryan, spontaneously begins singing the Bob Marley classic “Everything Is Gonna Be Alright.” The entire group joins in, most singing at the top of their lungs. The joy is palpable. I cannot suppress my smile. Though I cannot see, I can feel the smiles of the others.
During the final phase of the ceremony the steam is thick. The air is hot. We all sit in puddles of sweat now. Breathing is not easy. The mind must outthink the doubt.
“It helps to detox your body. Sweating out toxins that you’ve had in there for a long time. And you will sweat more than you ever had in your entire life,” Hoffmann says. “It gets very primal. And each level gets harder, so mentally you have to keep your intention and keep learning and listening to others. But when you’re feeling everyone else in there, it’s like we’re all in this together.”
Upon exit, Hoffmann embraces the other participants. They all smile as they enjoy lips full of powdered cacao leaf. We are covered in red clay, which streams from our foreheads and drips from our knees. I mention the heat. Hoffmann laughs, and informs me that our experience was “about a four outta t10” on the misery scale. He then explains that he’s completed temescals in the past that overwhelmed him so badly, he attempted to suck cool air from the earth beneath him. Four out of 10 was plenty hot for me.
Folks bathe in an open mountainside shower after the ceremony.
Hoffmann says he feels so alive.
THAT BRINGS US back to Nekawa, and that lengthy hike through knee-deep muck and cow manure. The whole crew went. We slipped and slid and laughed and cussed. But we were together with Hoffmann, all somehow keenly aware of the beauty of that unity. We were also aware how proud Hoffmann was to bring us here, and how grateful he was that we came. He mentions that appreciation multiple times.
We emerge from the muck and walk through a jungle pass maze of vines and into the clearing, then through a barbed wire gate and towards the mountain crest that will someday host the treatment center. The view in the clearing is a reminder how small we are.
Hoffmann sets his bag on the ground and pulls out the glass bottles. He turns his back to the group and urinates into the bottle. I walk up the hill and do the same. Urine therapy is an important aspect of Hoffmann’s regimen. He takes a dry brush and scrubs his skin to open his pores, then pours his urine in his hand and rubs it on his chest and arms. Then he drinks the rest.
“I started researching it and I discovered that our urine is filled with human growth hormone, which is unbelievable for me, so that sparked my interest,” Hoffmann says. “Filled with stem cells, vitamins, minerals, all these things that your body doesn’t use but can re-use. So, for me it’s helped my muscles regrow. I have some firing in between my ribs right here. Four years ago, I couldn’t feel any activation. And now between these ribs I feel it again.”
I confirm he credits urine therapy as a key component to why he believes his body is regenerating.
“I think that it’s a big reason why, yes,” he affirms. “I know it’s going to be deemed crazy from a lot of people, and that’s okay and if you think that way, it’s not your path. I am not trying to force this on anybody. This is my journey, and I know it’s off the beaten path from where we’re standing in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle.
“We’re this organism that doesn’t need that much to thrive. I have found that my mind is the most strong part of my healing process. Like, looking in the mirror and seeing myself with two full pecs again, and jacked again like I was in college. When I do that it’s emotional, not because I don’t have it, but because I know I will have it again. I’m so excited for that day.”
More than a year ago, when we first began the journey that ultimately became this story, I promised Hoffmann that I would fully immerse myself in his program, and that it was important to me to be a good steward of his spirit. Part of that creed was drinking my own urine. On that mountain top he asked me if I was still interested in joining him.
So I unscrewed the cap and told him I’d take a few sips. I wasn’t ready to chug 16 ounces of urine. We clinked our bottles together and I took a couple swigs. Afterward, Hoffmann was giddy. He then told me just one other friend had ever gone so far as to consume their own urine with him. No family members. Just one other buddy.
He fully understands how folks could think he’s weird. It took him a long time to accept the idea. After all, the effects of urine therapy are debated in the medical world.
“I was like, ‘Man, this is crazy.’ I thought it was waste. Everyone pees in a toilet, no one wants to touch it, no one wants to smell it, no one wants to get it on themselves,” he says. “I was in that mindset. And it took me three years to get out of that, and research about urine therapy and what’s really in it, and how it goes through your body, how it’s really created in your body. How it’s basically the blood filtered through the kidneys, and it comes out of your urinary tract. And to me, there’s a few things that really got me over the hump to do it.”
During his research, Hoffmann says he noticed that pharmaceuticals, skin care companies and lotions include the ingredient urea to promote anti-aging. He also says he learned that hospitals use IVs with plasma ultrafiltrate to help patients replenish vitamins, minerals, stem cells and human growth hormone. He says all of these things are abundant in urine.
“To me that proved that it’s a great healer in medicine,” he explains. “It’s very soft in taste. It’s kind of slippery, I guess you could say. It’s like a harsher lemonade, maybe a lemonade that’s been sitting out for a few days.”
It wasn’t disgusting. I wasn’t grossed out. The taste hinted towards my morning coffee.
“To me, to this day, I’ve never had an upset stomach from it,” Hoffmann says. “It’s the opposite effect, actually. I feel calmer, or more connected and settled when I drink it.”
HOFFMAN IS A father now. In December, he and Chelsea welcomed daughter Rai via free birth. He says there was an immediate shift towards protectiveness for his wife and daughter. He feels more masculine and more confident. He feels emotionally full in the ongoing quest to research and implement new methods to heal his body.
“I’m not saying that I have the cure for muscular dystrophy,” Hoffmann says. “I’m not saying I have cured it, because, clearly, I haven’t. But I’m on my way. I’m doing things that I haven’t heard done before, like creating new muscle. It’s exciting.”
Hoffmann would love to play competitive golf again someday. The fire still rages. He returned to the Tour five times in 2022 and made the cut twice. He pays enough attention to the PGA Tour to think he could go compete again. But his magnetic pull is to his family and Nekawa, helping others find and learn healing methods, while continuing to learn to love himself.
“Every morning you have to look yourself in the eye in the mirror and tell you, ‘I love you, Morgan,'” Hoffmann says. “And you can say it, but to really mean it, and to feel it, and to have it penetrate, is hard and powerful. So, what I see now, is potential.”