A 73-year-old man has logged over 1,100 competitive races and continues to compete and train daily. Moreover, he has run in 70 marathons, 31 of them being The Boston Marathon, competed in 252 triathlons, six of which were the Iron Man distance events. Still not impressed? Consider that this remarkable man had a heart attack in 2003 as he was training for The Boston Marathon. Three stents later, he was approved by his physicians to compete, due to his great conditioning. This was the one time, in spite of his tremendous drive, that he had to drop out of a race. He had an allergic reaction to the statin drugs he was administered and could not compete. Later that year, he would compete in the Iron Man Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii. Unfortunately, he could not complete the race due to a crash at the 85 mile marker while biking. There is one additional factor that makes all of this a true miracle Dick Hoyt, accomplished all of this by running, biking and swimming with another person at his side who could not.
Rick Hoyt was born in 1962 with a disability. He was diagnosed as a Spastic Quadriplegic with Cerebral Palsy. A young couple, Dick and his wife had to make the decision to raise their son or institutionalize him. The doctors predicted that Rick would never be able to walk, talk or interact in a meaningful fashion, therefore they recommended institutionalization. This was a common recommendation at that time. Public school systems did not have to educate children with disabilities and could elect to exclude them. In spite of the experts recommendations and the difficult path ahead, Dick and his wife chose to raise their child at home. That decision would have a dramatic impact upon Dick and Rick and a beautiful story of love and commitment would evolve.
Dick Hoyt was a leader in high school. He was captain of his football and baseball teams. He played linebacker and offensive guard on the football team. He even played full back when needed for short gains. After high school, he entered the military and eventually rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel while serving for thirty-five years. Dick's conditioning would pay dividends in boot camp. He relates, “When I went through basic training, I was soldier of the cycle, so I got to go home one weekend when the others couldn't go home.“ Perhaps it was this drive that led Dick to make decisions that would dramatically shape Rick's life and his own.
Dick could tell that Rick had something to say, even if the professionals doubted his abilities and intelligence. Dick shares, “They wouldn't allow Rick into school, and we wanted him in public school. We didn't want him in a special school, cause there were places that he could have gone, but most of them they just sit in the corner, and they really don't learn anything. We could tell by looking in his eyes that he was paying attention and he understood everything that was going on, so we taught him the alphabet and the numbers, and we did a lot of reading with Rick. And then we tried to get him in public school, and they said,”'no, he doesn't understand, he won't be able to learn.'” He wanted others to see his son as a regular person who could live, learn, work, and play. Instead, Dick and his wife would experience the uncomfortable stares and exclusion that are prevalent when disabilities are misunderstood. When they would take Rick to a restaurant, people would not look at him or ask to be moved if seated closely. A life-changing decision would level the playing field and allow Dick's dreams for his son to emerge.
The Hoyts approached engineers at Tufts University in Boston to build a device that would allow Rick to communicate. The engineers gave the same assessment that was issued by the public school system; he can't learn. Relentless, Dick made a quick decision that would have an everlasting impact. He asked the engineers to tell Rick a joke. Rick cracked-up laughing when the punch line was delivered. Dick relived the response, “Wow, maybe there is something there." So they said if you can get us $5,000, we'll build a communicating device for Rick. Now you've got to remember this was 45 years ago, and $5,000 was a lot of money.”
The money was raised through local bake sales, a community dinner, and family donations. The device was built, and lives were changed forever. The Tufts Interactive Communicator would become one of the first assistive devices and Rick was able to communicate. His first words, “Go, Bruins!” To put this in perspective, it was during the time Boston Bruins were competing for the Stanley Cup. Dick explains, “So we knew right then and there that he understood everything that was going on.” The school system was still apprehensive and felt the parents were prompting Rick's responses. Therefore when Rick was evaluated, Dick and his wife had to remain outside the assessment location. The evaluation proved Rick's ability to comprehend and he was accepted in public school at the age of thirteen. This late start didn't squelch Rick's academic success. He would later receive a degree in special education from Boston University.
Dick did not engage in athletics as a young father. He was too busy working three jobs just to pay for Rick's medical bills. His athletic prowess would be tested dramatically when Rick requested that his father push him in a five-mile race. At the age of thirty-eight, Dick would compete in his first competitive race. He had not been training to run a race and obviously never thought his first race would involve pushing a wheelchair. This was not a special ergonomically-built chair for racing. Therefore, the demands for this first race were compounded. Dick described the wheelchair, “It's something that was prescription form-fitted to Rick's body, and we had a hard time pushing him in it, nevermind running in it. When we were running this chair just wanted to keep going into the woods. “
That first race was life changing for both Dick and Rick. When they got home that night, Rick wrote the following on his computer: "Dad, when I'm running, it feels like my disability disappears." Dick explains, “If you think of somebody in a wheelchair, can't talk, use their arms and their legs, and now they're out there running, the disability disappears. He actually called himself 'free bird,' because now he was free and able to be out there competing and running with everybody else, and he actually had a sign made up that said "Free Bird" that he attached to his chair.
Dick had a powerful work ethic from the time he was a youngster. This tenacity would prepare him for the more than eleven-hundred races he would run as a loving father. When Rick went to Boston University, Dick had to be creative in order to simulate Rick's weight. At the time, Rick weighed 94 pounds. “I couldn't train with him, so what I did is I replaced him with a bag of cement. At the time, he weighed about 94 pounds, and the bag of cement was 95 pounds. You should see the looks I used to get riding down the streets on my bike with a bag of cement and pushing a bag of cement in the running chair,” Dick explains. The commitment didn't end there. Dick could not swim prior to competing. When he decided to compete in triathlons, he bought a home on a lake in order to facilitate his swimming skills.
Daily training is a part of Dick's routine when speaking engagements and flights don't prevent him from working out. He engages in resistance exercises for about an hour and twenty minutes. He uses light weight on machines with a high intensity regimen. Running, biking and swimming follow the weight training. Whenever possible, Dick cooks his own meals. A family history of high cholesterol has encouraged him to monitor his diet. He eats whole foods and monitors his fat intake.
Though his race record is remarkable, Dick does not view these physical trials as his greatest accomplishment. He views his advocacy to permit Rick to be accepted and fulfill his life's goals as the pinnacle of his achievements. “I think being able to get people to recognize Rick as a regular person, able to live, learn, work and play, just like everybody else, and this is what we've been able to do. Rick and I never thought that we'd even be running a marathon, but look at what we have done,” Dick explains.
The Hoyt's influence has gone far beyond the impact of their individual lives. Team Hoyt is the name given to teams of athletes in Virginia Beach, Virginia, San Diego, California, and New England. The teams of volunteer athletes run, bike and swim with disabled individuals in the manner that permitted Rick to experience freedom. These are usually not relatives, just kind athletes who want to give others the Hoyt experience. When Dick and Rick went to Japan in 1994-95, their running led two of the largest television stations in Japan to come to the United States to create a documentary regarding their dedication towards each other. This, Dick believes, has led to Japan becoming more sensitive to the needs of special individuals.
This Ageless/Timeless athlete proves that a parent's love knows no boundaries. The impossible can become possible with love and faith.