Team Hoyt and their supporters at the finish line of the 2014 Boston Marathon
By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
The words “heroes,” “legends” and “icons” are used so often now, they have almost become trite. But those words are truly ways to describe the father-son duo of Dick Hoyt and Rick Hoyt. For over 40 years, the two have inspired millions around the world as they have watched Dick, and his son, Rick, who has cerebral palsy, compete in over 1,000 road races, marathons and triathlons. In doing so, they have also become leaders in helping to pave the way for others with disabilities, emphasizing the importance of inclusion of these individuals in all facets of daily life.
The story of Team Hoyt has been told many times, yet never fails to impress. When Rick was born, he suffered a lack of oxygen to his brain, leading him to be diagnosed as a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy. His parents were advised to institutionalize him – there was little hope, they were told, that their son would live a “normal” life.
But what those experts didn’t know then – and what the world knows now – the Hoyts do not give up. Rather, they accept every challenge sent their way with an amazing blend of positive thinking, hard work and love. Indeed, their motto now of “Yes, you can” was their philosophy right from the start.
“There is no such thing as ‘no,’” Dick said emphatically.
Rick’s parents fought for years to get him integrated into public schools, finally achieving that goal when he was 13.
It was in 1977 that Rick told his father that he wanted to participate in a five-mile benefit run for a schoolmate who had been paralyzed in an accident. Although Dick had been active in team sports as a high school player, he was, he admitted, “not a long-distance runner” at that time. But he nevertheless agreed to push Rick in his wheelchair in the race.
The two came in next to last. But instead of being discouraged, Rick was thrilled, noting to his father, that when they ran, it “feels like I’m not handicapped.”
That was enough to inspire Dick to want to do more so Rick would continue to feel that way.
Over time the two entered more road races, ultimately building up to marathons.
“Everyone who runs a race dreams of doing a marathon, right?” Dick said.
As time went on, Dave McGillivray, a local race director (and who is now the Boston Marathon race director), suggested the Hoyts try a new challenge – triathlons. Rick was excited about doing one of those, too, Dick recalled.
“He is always so positive and willing to try anything,” Dick said.
But there was one problem – Dick didn’t know how to swim. He also had not been on a bike since he was 6 years old.
“I lived in a house on a lake so I had someone drop me off in the middle of that,” he recalled. “That’s how I learned to swim. Because you have to get back somehow!”
The two have competed in 257 triathlons (including six Ironman distances and seven half Ironman distances). While triathlons can be varied for the respective portion distances, the Ironman is particularly strenuous, requiring Dick pushing Rick 26.2 miles in a special racing wheelchair, towing him 2.4 miles in a dinghy while he swam, and pedaling 112 miles with Rick sitting in a special seat.
“We loved doing triathlons – we just love the challenge,” Dick said.
One of the many highlights of their storied career was meeting President Ronald Reagan. The former president had contacted Dick after watching an Ironman competition and, like so many others, was inspired by the strength and courage of the father-son duo. A photo of the Hoyts with the president is now on display at the Reagan Museum in California.
Through example, the Hoyts continued to advocate for those with disabilities. In 1987, they founded the nonprofit Hoyt Foundation, Inc., which “aspires to build the individual character, self-confidence and self-esteem of America’s disabled young people through inclusion in all facets of daily life, including in family and community activities, especially sports, at home, in schools, and in the workplace. The Foundation also provides advice and support to groups and individuals who share this mission.”
For years, the Hoyts were familiar and beloved figures at the Boston Marathon but planned on 2013 being their last one. But the tragic bombings that day changed that. Although they themselves were not physically injured, their hearts were heavy. So they felt compelled to run again in 2014 as a way to honor those who had been killed or injured.
Rick has continued competing in Boston, running with family friend Bryan Lyons.
Last year was tough for Rick, as he was quite ill battling pneumonia. Thankfully he has made a complete recovery.
“He is in the best shape of his life now, he looks sharp and is very motivated,” Dick said. “He just never gets discouraged or lets problems get to him. He is always positive.”
As proud as Dick is of his son, he is equally proud of the eight Team Hoyt organizations around the country and Canada, which are set up to continue the mission of Dick and Rick – to enable those who cannot run the opportunity to run with the wind while being pushed in a running chair – to cross the finish line as Dick and Rick continue to do. Each group is made up of a board of directors that volunteers their time to assist these athletes.
At age 77, Dick is slowing now…a bit. He noted he is recovering nicely from back surgery that he had in December. He now works out in a gym most days but has been given the go-ahead to start running once the winter weather passes. He plans to run a 5K with Rick in April two days prior to the Boston marathon.
“I have always loved sports,” he said. “I just like to be moving and doing something. Even after I finish marathons I would come home and do yard work.”
He also continues to travel the country for corporate speaking engagements each year, as well as at local schools and other venues.
To Dick, age really is just a number. That “Yes, you can” attitude applies to everyone, no matter their age, he insists.
“You are never too old to do anything,” he added. “You just have to have a positive attitude and try things.”
For more information on the mission of Team Hoyt, and how you can donate, visit www.teamhoyt.com.
(All photos/courtesy Team Hoyt)