He’s the one who has motivated me because if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be out there doing triathlons. What I’m doing is loaning Rick my arms and legs so he can be out there competing like everybody else”
This is the remarkable story of a father’s devotion to his wheelchair-bound son and how their bond inspired millions of people worldwide. Dick and Rick Hoyt, better known as “Team Hoyt.” Rick was born in 1962 to Dick and Judy Hoyt in Holland, Massachusetts in the USA. As a result of oxygen deprivation to Rick’s brain at the time of his birth, Rick was diagnosed as a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy. As a result, his brain cannot send the correct messages to his muscles. Dick and Judy were advised to institutionalize Rick because there was no chance of him recovering, and little hope for Rick to live a “normal” life.
His parents held onto the fact that Rick’s eyes would follow them around the room, giving them hope that he would somehow be able to communicate someday. The Hoyts took Rick every week to Children’s Hospital in Boston, where they met a doctor who encouraged the Hoyts to treat Rick like any other child. Rick’s mother Judy spent hours each day teaching Rick the alphabet with sandpaper letters and posting signs on every object in the house. In a short amount of time, Rick learned the alphabet. This was just the beginning of Dick and Judy’s quest for Rick’s inclusion in community, sports, education and one day, the workplace.
Dick and Judy fought to integrate Rick into the public school system, pushing administrators to see beyond Rick’s physical limitations. Dick and Judy would take Rick sledding and swimming like any other child. After providing concrete evidence of Rick’s intellect and ability to learn like everyone else, Dick and Judy needed to find a way to help Rick communicate for himself. “Many people tried to make it difficult for us, but we just went ahead,” Dick says.
With $5,000 in 1972 and a skilled group of engineers at Tufts University, an interactive computer was built for Rick. This computer consisted of a cursor being used to highlight every letter of the alphabet. Once the letter Rick wanted was highlighted, he was able to select it by just a simple tap with his head against a head piece attached to his wheelchair. When the computer was originally first brought home, Rick surprised everyone with his first words. Instead of saying, “Hi, Mom,” or “Hi, Dad,” Rick’s first “spoken” words were: “Go, Bruins!” The Boston Bruins were in the Stanley Cup finals that season. It was clear from that moment on that Rick loved sports and followed the game just like anyone else.
In 1975, at the age of 13, Rick was finally admitted into public school. After high school, Rick attended Boston University and, in 1993, he graduated with a degree in Special Education. Dick retired in 1995 as a Lt. Colonel from the Air National Guard, after serving his country for 37 years.
In the spring of 1977, Team Hoyt began when Rick asked his father if they could run in a race together to benefit a lacrosse player at his school who had become paralyzed. He wanted to prove that life went on no matter your disability. One problem: Dick was not a runner, and was 36 years old. Great fathers, however, make sacrifices. Great fathers give up their time, money, and physical energy for the sake of giving their children a better life, or sometimes, merely a smile. Dick may not have been a runner, but as a great father, his son’s request was all the motivation he needed. He agreed and pushed his son’s wheelchair the full five miles.
After their first race Rick said, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.” After their initial five mile run, Dick began running every day with a bag of cement in the wheelchair because Rick was at school or studying, unable to train with him. Dick was able to improve his fitness so much that even with pushing his son, he was able to obtain a personal record of a 5 km run in 17 minutes. Dick immediately took to sacrificing his time and energy, selflessly giving that able-bodied feeling to his son. Over the next three and a half decades, the pair set, achieved and surpassed not only their own goals, but also everyone’s expectations of a father carrying, towing, and pushing his wheelchair-bound adult son.
In 1981, the Hoyts would finish their first Boston Marathon, a 26.2-mile trek through downtown Boston, with Dick pushing Rick in a special wheelchair. The event, Dick admits, was somewhat difficult for him. Four years later, on Father’s Day, the father and son would take on something that was, at the time, unprecedented: a triathlon that consisted of a one-mile swim, a 40-mile bicycle ride, and a 20-mile run. For the Hoyts, the question was not if they could achieve this, but how? The answer lied in equipment. For the swimming portion of the triathlon, Dick pulled Rick in a specialized boat with a bungee cord wrapped around Dick’s waist. To bike, the pair used a two-seater bicycle with a custom-made seat, and for the final road race, he pushed Rick in his athletic chair.
The spark for this lifetime of patience and devotion was ignited. The message Rick typed, expressing his joy of feeling “like I wasn’t handicapped,” began an odyssey of love that continues to this day, taking father and son to competitions around the world. It even inspired Dick to learn how to swim. “He’s the one who has motivated me; because if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be out there competing,” says Dick. “What I’m doing is loaning Rick my arms and legs so he can be out there competing like everybody else.”
From there, and it was now 1988, it was onto the most challenging of all sporting events, the Ironman Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii. This grueling event, which the duo has now taken part in six times, consists of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride, and a marathon 26.2-mile (42.2 km) run. The first try did not go well because Dick got sick, but they returned to Hawaii in 1989 and finished the race. In 2003′s Ironman attempt, their bike crashed, and they spent five hours in the hospital, Rick with stitches on his face and Dick with road rash. But they got back up to try again, and they finished. They would make several other returns to the beautiful state of Hawaii to compete in the Ironman
Triathlon.Over the years, the Hoyts completed a number of marathons, triathlons, and rode races, but in 1992 it was time to take on a new challenge unique to them – a 3770-mile trek across the United States through 18 states from Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles to the Marriott Long Wharf on Boston Harbor, Mass. The journey took 47 consecutive days, and it was a family affair to remember, which they affectionately named “The Trek Across America.”
Rick is amazed at his father’s strength. The average triathlete probably weighs about 150 pounds and their bike weighs about 17 pounds. This is a total of 167 pounds. Dick weighs about 180 pounds, and their bike weighs about seventy pounds, because it needs to be heavier and stronger to hold both him and his seat. Rick weighs about 100 pounds. These totals 350 pounds, or almost 200 pounds more than the average triathlete with his bike. The same math could be used to figure out how heavy a load Dick has to pull over a two-mile swim as well.
In 2005, the Hoyts used their notoriety to create a foundation, The Hoyt Foundation, Inc., to help others with disabilities take part in athletic pursuits; promote and foster inclusion in everyday life, and raise disability awareness. Benefactors include the Boston Children’s Hospital, Easter Seals of Massachusetts, Rehab Resources, various summer camps, and therapeutic organizations. Their motto is “Yes You Can” to promote the message that you can do anything you set your mind to for individuals with or without disability. For the Hoyts, after decades of being told “No you can’t” they want to send a different message for others to hear.
Team Hoyt’s accomplishments include: 255 Triathlons (6 Ironman distances, 7 Half Ironman, 22 Duathlons), 72 Marathons (32 Boston Marathons, 8 18.6 Milers, 97 Half Marathons), 1 20K, 37 10 Milers, 35 Falmouth 7.1 Milers (1 Falmouth in the Fall), 8 15K’s, 218 10K’s, 160 5 Milers, 4 8K’s, 18 4 Milers, 161 5K’s, 8 20 Milers, 2 11K’s, 1 7K, 1 20 mile bike for Best Buddies.
From the beginning everything they did with their other sons, they did with Rick. At first, people would look at them strangely, but eventually, they embraced them. Throughout their many interview and books, one theme remains, there is no Team Hoyt without each other. And, both will boast, they never finished last.
Dick has also written about his experiences with his son. The book, “It’s Only a Mountain,” highlights his achievements in the athletic realm. His latest book, “Devoted: A Father’s Love for His Son,” delves into his personal path as Rick’s father, and their journey of persistence and bond. In 2012, Rick’s first book “One Letter at a Time,” co-authored with Todd Civin, the Hoyt’s social media director, was published to not only share Rick’s voice, but dozens of personal accounts of individuals whose lives were positively impacted by Rick and Team Hoyt.
The Hoyt’s both have received several awards for their efforts to bring the issues of the disabled into the nation’s conscience. These include the induction into the Ironman Hall of Fame; the “Living Legends” award from the Sports Museum of New England; a Certificate of Achievement from the President Council on Sports and Fitness; the Champion Sports Award from the Washington D.C.-based Lombardi Foundation; the Parenting Award from the Army National Guard; the “Exemplary Father” award from the Office of the Mayor in Dayton, Ohio; and the Humanitarian Service Award from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
In 2013, after decades of competition, the sport had physically taken its toll on “Team Hoyt.” Dick, 73, and Rick, 52, decided to make the 2013 Boston Marathon, long the pair’s favorite race, their swan song. However, the terrorist bombing at the finish line cut that race short for far too many, including Team Hoyt. After being stopped at the 23-mile mark, the dynamic duo could not finish.
A story like this cannot end there. Team Hoyt has instead opted for the 2014 Boston Marathon to be their grand finale, and in a fitting finish to a story that has inspired millions, it is ending the same way it began. In an interview with WBUR in Boston, Dick said of the race: “Well, we didn’t finish [the 2013 Marathon]. But the big thing, our concern, were the people who got killed and wounded, you know? And so that’s why we’re running this year, for the people who got killed and wounded.”
A father-son team that began racing in support of others less fortunate, sacrificing their time and energy to benefit others, Team Hoyt continued in that same spirit for 37 years. They proved to everyone that anything can be done with enough stubborn persistence, dedication and, ultimately, the bottomless depths of love that can be found only in the unique bond between a father and his son; love found only if sought out and fully realized.
Dick and Rick Hoyt have inspired a new generation of fatherhood. We can never forget their courage and dedication, and they remind us to always remember how we can guide our children. “We run for the people who think they can’t run.” Dick says.
To learn more about Team Hoyt, visit their website: www.teamhoyt.com Team Hoyt is proud to be working with John Hancock, who has contributed a great deal of time, money, and passion to help Dick and Rick Hoyt continue participating in racing events across the country. For more information, visit: www.johnhancock.com