“Team Hoyt” An Inspiring Story For All Athletes

Team Hoyt is an inspirational story of a father, Dick Hoyt, and his son, Rick, who compete together in marathons and triathlons across the country but how they compete is what make this families story so inspiring.   ” Team Hoyt strives to help those who are physically disabled become active members of the community.”  This story is well know in the running world especially in Massachusetts (where they live).  While watching my husband run Boston in 1996 I saw the Hoyt’s finish the race.  The crowd went crazy and Rick was very excited.    In 1999 I ran the Boston Marathon and saw Team Hoyt up close.  There story is incredible.

Rick was born in 1962 to Dick and Judy Hoyt.  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.  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.   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 soon realized that though Rick couldn’t walk or speak; he was quite astute and his eyes would follow them around the room.   They 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, and even taught him the alphabet and basic words, 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.

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.    Rick attended Boston University, and  graduated with a degree in Special Education in 1993.   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, Rick told his father that he wanted to participate in a 5-mile benefit run for a Lacrosse player who had been paralyzed in an accident.   Dick was not a runner but agreed to   push Rick in his wheelchair and they finished all 5 miles, coming in next to last. That night, Rick told his father, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.”

This realization was just the beginning of  over 1,000 races completed together, including marathons, duathlons and triathlons (6 of them being Ironman competitions).   In a triathlon, Dick  pulls Rick in a lifeboat, with a bungee cord one end attached to a vest around his waist and the other end to the front of the boat.    Rick rides in a seat on the handle bars of a special two-seater bicycle. Then Dick pushes Rick in his custom-made running chair (for the running stage). Imagine pulling a full-grown adult in a life boat for 2.4 miles, them pedaling 112 miles with him on the handlebars and finally pushing him 26.2 miles all in one day.

Rick was once asked, if he could give his father one thing, what would it be?  Rick responded, “The thing I’d most like is for my dad to sit in the chair and I would push him for once.”

The 2009 Boston Marathon was officially Team Hoyt’s 1000th race. Rick always says if it comes down to doing one race a year he would like it to be the Boston Marathon: his favorite race. Dick Hoyt hopes that he is able to push Rick in the Boston Marathon when he is 70 years old (2011)! Neither Dick or Rick are ready to retire yet.

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