– Triathletes and Motivational Speakers –
“It was Rick the motivation, he asked me to race”
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.
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
Team Hoyt in their own words
How does it feel to be an inspiration to others? Did you ever expect to become an inspiration?
We never expected anything like this to happen. When Rick was born, they said forget Rick, put him in an institution, he is notthing but a vegetable for the rest of his life. We never even thought we would be doing marathons, and triathlons. I was 40 years old when Rick asked me to run with him on the first race, and he asked me to run on this race beacuse other boy that was at Westfield State College was involved in an accident, and got paralized from the waist down, and they were going to have a Charity Road Race to try to help raise some money to get paid his medical bills, and came home from that game, and he told me about it, and said to me “Dad, I have to do something for him, I want to let him know life goes on even though he’s paralyzed. I want to run in that race”. Now, this is Rick telling me that who is in a wheelchair; he can’t talk, he can’t use his arms or his legs, and he wants to help this fellow that is paralyzed from the waist down…I just thought that’s unbelievable!. When Rick and I did that very first race, when we got home that night, he went to his computer and said “Dad, when I’m running it feels like my disability disappears!”, which was a very powerful message to me, and if you think about it, someone that is in a wheelchair that can’t talk, can’t use his arms, can’t use his legs, and there are others outise running, and Rick says his disability disappears??… This is how all get started, and now is just amazing, beacuse when Rick was born, they didn’t want us in a restaurant, they didn’t want him go to school, they didn’t want him competing on nothing, and our message is “‘Yes, you can. There is anything you can’t do as long as you make up your mind to do it”. That’s what we’ve been doing, and that message is spreading all over the wolrd, and now people are using us to be able to get out there and compete not just in triathlons, but running in races. It’s just amazing what is going on.
Why are Triathlons so inspiring? What makes this sport so special around the world?
I think is just amazing to see these people out there competing against each other, just to be out there and swim, then bike, then run…I just love it! It’s great! Specially to see that finish line, and how they promoted in Hawaii, it is just unbelievable. I think it’s the best finish of any sport in the world. When you see them coming accross the finish line, all the other athletes are out there to cheer them on.
What motivates you in life?
Rick motivates me. Rick inspires and motivates me. The easiest thing in the world for Rick was to quit, and give up but he never did. He is a fighter, and he wants to be out there, and he wants to be competing, but not only been at, he wants to be the very best that he can be. He is graduated from public High School, he is graduated from Boston University, he’s got a life size broze statue, he is being inducted into the Ironman triathlon. He was like the 24th person in the world inducted into the Ironman Triathlon Hall of Fame. We just won the ESPY Award which is the biggest sports award, and we just got inducted into the Marines Marathon Hall of Fame. If you can see all the awards and everything we have won, it is just unbelievable.
What would you say to other people with similar ambitions?
I will tell them this message: “Yes, you can. There is anything you can do as long you make up your mind to do it, and there’s no such word as no.”
Who inspires you? Why?
Rick inspires me.
How did you deal with obstacles in your life?
We don’t take No for an answer, and we don’t ask for any considerations with nothing special. We just go out, and we compete like anybody else.
What do you like most about Triathlons?
I love triathlons, and I love the finish line. I think it’s the best finish of any sport in the world.
Mention major accomplishments in your life other than triathlons
• Ironman Triathlon Hall of Fame / Kona, Hawaii • B.A.A. Patriot’s Award / Boston, MA • FREDDIE Award (Public Service) / International Health & Medical Media Awards • Spirit of Independence Award / PetroSun Independence Bowl • Living Legends Sports Award / Sports Museum of New England • Lifetime Achievement Award / Western New England College • Kodak Champions / Parade Magazine • George Washington Honor Medal / Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge • Certificate of Achievement / President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports • The Crews Choise Award / Ironman Canada • Champion Sports Award / Lombardi Foundation, Washington, D.C. • Father and Son of the Year Award / Holland, MA • EL Club Triathlon Special Award / Santa Anna, El Salvador • Reach for the Star Image Award / Morgan Memorial Goodwill Indusdries • World Triathlon Strength and Courage Award / Montreal Mondial • Parenting Award / Army National Guard of MA. • Exemplary Father Award / Office of the Mayor, Dayton OH • Sheriffs Special Award / Middlesex County, MA • Certificate of Excellence: Bud Light Ironman / Kona, HI • Special Achievement Award / Falmouth Annual Road Race • Jaycess Fitness Leader Award / Long Beach, CA • Humanitarian Service Award / Commonwealth of Massachusetts • Certificate of Completion: Trek Across America / Governor Weld, Boston, MA • Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree / Western New England College • Sports Personality Award / Boston Press Photographers Association • Superlative Performance for Courage Arete • Boston Proclamation: Dick & Rick Hoyt Day / Mayor Flynn, Boston, MA • True Ironman Award / Waltham Police Dept., Waltham, MA • Great Seal of the Commonwealth / Governor Dukakis, Massachusetts
Do you support or represent any Non-Profit Organizations?.
Team Hoyt is proud to be working with the following sponsors who have contributed a great deal of time, money and passion to help Dick and Rick Hoyt continue participating in racing events across the country www.johnhancock.com.