Last summer I included a story about one of my running heroes, Terry Fox. I received some positive comments about it so it seemed to be well received. This month I thought I would write about another of my running heroes, Team Hoyt. I decided to write this when I saw them accept the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at the Annual ESPY Awards on television recently. The award is given to members of the sporting world who have overcome great obstacles through perseverance and determination.
For those that know anything about Team Hoyt from Holland, Massachusetts, they certainly exemplify this award in every way. Dick (age 73) pushes his son, Rick (age 51), through each race in which they participate. Rick is restricted to a wheelchair. Using their custom-made running chair, they have completed over 1,000 races together.
When we first started running, I was getting calls and letters from people with disabilities that were very upset with me and they said I was just out there looking for glory and dragging my disabled son to all these races. They didn’t know that it was him dragging his old man to these races.
~ Dick Hoyt
Overcoming the Odds
Rick was born in 1962. At birth, he was diagnosed as a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy because of oxygen deprivation to his brain. Dick and his wife, Judy, were advised to send him to an institution because he had no chance of recovery and little chance at a “normal” life. Although he could not walk or speak, Dick and Judy soon realized that his eyes would follow them around the room. Through every period of Rick’s life, the Hoyts had to fight to integrate him into society. They pushed school administrators to see beyond Rick’s physical limitations to include him in the public school system. They did everything they could to give him that “normal” life, even taking him swimming and sledding. They taught him the alphabet and basic words. They even had to show concrete evidence of his intellect and ability to learn like everyone else so they could help him find a way to communicate on his own. With the help of engineers at Tufts University in Boston, an interactive computer was built for Rick. Using one letter at a time, Rick could finally communicate for himself. He even surprised everyone when his first words were, “Go Bruins!” (The Boston Bruins were in the Stanley Cup Finals that season.) As they suspected, Dick and Judy had a sports fan on their hands. At 13 years old, Rick was finally admitted to public school. After high school, he even went to Boston University where he graduated with a degree in Special Education in 1993.
Team Hoyt’s Beginning
In 1977, Rick told his dad that he wanted to participate in a five-mile benefit run for a lacrosse player that had been paralyzed in an accident. Dick agreed to push Rick even though he was not a distance runner. Although it was difficult, Dick pushed him all five miles and they finished next to last. It was quite a struggle, partly because Dick was not a runner and partly because Rick’s wheelchair was not designed for running. When they got home that night, Rick said, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.” Thus began Team Hoyt. It was just the start of an athletic career that would encompass over 1,000 races of various types, including marathons, duathlons and triathlons (six being Ironman competitions). As if that is not enough, Dick and Rick biked and ran across the United States in 1992, completing 3,735 miles in only 45 days.
When we got home from that race that night, Rick wrote on the computer, ‘Dad, when I run it feels like my disability disappears.’ So, that was a very powerful message to me.
~ Dick Hoyt
Triathlons may be their most amazing accomplishments from my perspective. Dick completes the swim by pulling Rick in a boat with a bungee cord attached to a vest around his waist and to the front of the boat. For the biking portion, Rick rides on the front of a special two-seater bicycle. And for the run, Dick pushes Rick in his custom-made running chair. If you have ever seen them compete, you know that Dick has to carry Rick from stage to stage as well.
People often ask me, ‘What would you do if you were not disabled?’ When I was first asked, I said I’d probably play baseball or hockey. But when I thought about it some more, I realized that I’d tell my father to sit down in my wheelchair so I could push him. If it weren’t for him, I’d probably be living in a home for people with disabilities. He is not just my arms and legs. He’s my inspiration, the person who allows me to live my life to the fullest and inspire others to do the same.
~ Rick Hoyt
The Boston Marathon
In 2009, Team Hoyt completed The Boston Marathon for their 1,000th career race. It is Rick’s favorite race. This year’s marathon was to be their last together. It was their 31st consecutive running of this iconic event. After all, Dick is 73 years old and I cannot imagine pushing someone that far at any age. To commemorate their final Boston Marathon, the Boston Athletic Association honored the Hoyts by erecting a statue of the duo in front of Center School in Hopkinton where the marathon starts.
It was a beautiful day and their final race was going well. Dick said in an interview, “The race started off very good. It was awesome. We were having a good marathon run, an-hour-and-a-half faster than last year.” As they neared the finish, people began to tell them about the bombs going off on Boylston Street. Like many others, they were stopped with about a mile to go. Being there with Rick, Dick began to wonder what he was going to do. A bystander suggested they take a cab, but Rick’s wheelchair will not fit in a cab. Another spectator came forward with a Jeep SUV and offered to help them. The 2013 version of the marathon was supposed to be their last, but because they were unable to finish, they have committed to return in 2014 for a final run together. They want to finish the race to honor the victims and families impacted by the senseless act of terrorism.
By competing with my father, I send the message that everyone can set a goal and they can reach it, as long as they never give up. In 2008, Dad and I were inducted into the Ironman Hall of Fame. I was inducted as the twenty-sixth member and Dad just behind me as the twenty-seventh, because, as you know, I always finish just ahead of Dad…First, as a man with disabilities, it has given me the chance to compete in one of the world’s truly special sporting events. Second, allowing me to compete, led to the establishment of the physically challenged division. Third, it gave me the stage to show all types of different people that they can set, strive for and achieve their goals. And finally, I got to go to my favorite place on earth eight times.
~ Rick Hoyt
The Jimmy V Perseverance Award is one of the highlights of the Annual ESPY Awards. The award is named after, and inspired by, the late Jim Valvano. As the first recipient of the award in 1993 and while battling cancer, Coach Valvano gave an emotional speech that included the famous words, “Don’t give up…Don’t ever give up!” He passed away two months later.
During this year’s ESPY Awards, Boston native Ben Affleck took the stage to pay tribute to Team Hoyt and present them with this year’s award. Before introducing a video narrated by Denis Leary that told the story of Team Hoyt, Affleck said, “This April the country embraced the city of Boston after an act of terrorism at the marathon. Terrorism is meant to create fear and break the spirit of its victims. But the spirit of the city isn’t founded on her buildings within its landmarks, it’s found within the people who claim the city as their own and thrive despite adversity. It is found in the people of Boston. And it is especially found in people like Rick and Dick Hoyt.”
I knew the credit went to my son. He was my motivation. Something gets into me when I’m competing along with Rick that makes us go faster. My strength comes from him, as if it moves from his body into mine. The strength that I got from my son that day enabled us to become Ironmen.
~ Dick Hoyt
“Rick and I are grateful to be receiving this award, and learning that Jimmy Valvano’s motto was ‘Don’t Give Up…Don’t Ever Give Up!’ is amazing as we have always said there is no such word as ‘can’t’ in the Hoyt vocabulary,” said Dick Hoyt. “Our motto is ‘Yes You Can’ and we strive to always persevere even when others tell you that it cannot be done. We want to thank The V Foundation and The ESPYS for honoring us with this award.”
“Throughout their lives, Dick and Rick Hoyt have exemplified dedication and persistence, living out Jim Valvano’s famous words about perseverance,” said Maura Mandt, executive producer of The ESPYS. “The Hoyts serve as a symbol of their hometown as they consistently display strength and resilience – just like the city of Boston did in the aftermath of the marathon tragedy. Their numerous accomplishments have served as a true inspiration to many people and we’re proud to honor them with the Jimmy V Perseverance Award.”
…to me finishing is so important. It is a representation of my life. Mom and Dad could have quit when I was born, but they didn’t. They could have given up trying to help me learn to communicate or trying to get me into public school. They chose to continue, and because of that, I’ve had one heck of a ride. We never fail in our athletic competitions despite the fact that we have gotten lost during races and even finished with flat tires. We still continued and still finished the race. Dad and I are not quitters.
~ Rick Hoyt
If you have some time, I would recommend going online to search for videos of Team Hoyt. You cannot help but be inspired by them. I can watch YouTube videos about them for hours when I lose track of time. One word of warning, make sure you have plenty of tissues within reach. You will need them!