SEATTLE — If you’ve visited the chips aisle at the grocery store lately, you may have seen a West Seattleite smiling at you from the shelves.
Hoan Do was one of 30 people from around the country selected to appear on Lay’s bags, as part of the company’s 3rd annual Smiles for Miles of Aisles program.
Do said he was honored to participate since proceeds benefit Operation Smile, an international medical charity providing access to safe surgical care for patients with cleft conditions.
It’s the latest chapter in his inspiring life, which was charted even before he was born.
"My dad fought as a fighter pilot for the Republic of Vietnam,” Do said. "After the war was over, he was forced into re-education camp for four years until my mother broke him out. They fled to the United States where I was born in Hilltop, Tacoma. At the time, it was not the safest place so we didn't have a lot in our life but we did have a lot of love from my parents and I learned at an important age the idea of resilience and grit."
Do went to Decatur High School in Federal Way, and during his junior year found his calling after attending an event with a motivational speaker.
"For me, in my head, it clicked. I thought, if I can do this, I can help more people in my lifetime than just having tons of one on one conversations,” he said.
Before the pandemic, Do traveled 100 days a year to companies, organizations and schools, giving presentations and advice about overcoming adversity.
He also found time to stay in shape, namely with American Ninja Warrior-type workouts. A few years ago, he decided to submit an audition tape for the show and was chosen.
"A week before I competed on the show I asked my coach, 'Do you have any last minute tips for me? He said, 'Hoan, don't get hurt.' I was like, ‘Thanks, Captain Obvious,’” he said. "(Then) I was training and fell and I snapped my ankle. I'm thinking, 'You've got to be kidding me.' The pain was so intense, every time I tried to stand up, I'd crumble to the ground. I thought, my dream of competing on American Ninja Warrior was going to be over."
But, he tapped in to the resilience and grit modeled by his parents. After four hours of physical therapy for a week straight, he wound up advancing to the city finals.
“One of that sayings that really resonates with me is, 'Do your best and forget the rest,'” Do said. "2020 is a great example of that. Things happen in life, you can't control everything - but what you can control is how you react to situations and the effort that you put out."
To that end, Do is still managing to motivate crowds - just, virtually. Now based in West Seattle, he plans to keep sharing his inspirational outlook as long as people listen.
"When I wake up, I think about what I'm grateful for. My eyes that can see, my ears that can hear, my beating heart, my wife, my family and my goals,” he said. "Just thinking positive won't change what's happening in your life, but taking action will."