Hoyt Stresses Perseverance, Acceptance
Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 21, 2013 01:02
“I’d like you all to think of three small words—yes you can—because for 51 years, everyone has been saying no you can’t.”
Dick Hoyt, father to Rick Hoyt and member of “Team Hoyt,” spoke these words to a hushed audience on Monday night in Devlin 008. Students, faculty, and members of the Boston College community filled the lecture hall to hear Dick’s inspirational story of a father-son team.
Dick and his son, Rick, compete in marathons, duathlons, triathlons, and Ironman competitions. Since the spring of 1977, the two have participated in 1,090 events and traveled over 3,770 miles across America. Together, they form “Team Hoyt.”
Fifty-one years ago, Team Hoyt’s accomplishments seemed unimaginable. Rick was born in the winter of 1962. As a result of oxygen deprivation to his brain at the time of his birth, Rick was diagnosed as a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy. He could not use his arms or legs to function and was unable to speak.
“Doctors told us he would be nothing but a vegetable for the rest of his life,” Dick said. “They told us to put him away and leave him in a home.”
The Hoyts did just the opposite. Dick and Judy realized that although their son could not walk or speak, he was cognizant of his surroundings and astute to his parent’s actions. They began to homeschool Rick, teaching him the alphabet and numbers. Determined to give their son a normal upbringing, the Hoyts fought to integrate Rick into the local public school. At the age of 11, and with the help of a skilled group of Tufts University engineers, Rick was fitted with an interactive computer. For the first time in his life, Rick could communicate with others. His first spoken words were “Go, Bruins!” Two years later, at the age of 13, Rick was admitted to public school.
“Three years later, in the spring of 1977, Rick told me he wanted to participate in a five mile run for a lacrosse player who had been paralyzed in an accident,” Dick said. “Now, I was no long-distance runner, but we went out and we did it.”
At 37 years old, Dick pushed his son in a wheelchair through the benefit run. They finished the race, coming in next to last. That night, Rick told his father, “Dad when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.”
The rest, you could say, is history.
Dick began running every day with a bag of cement in Rick’s wheelchair. With training, his endurance grew and speed quickened to the point that he was running with Dick at a personal record of a 17 minute 5k. “Team Hoyt” soon began competing in races across the country.
The more they ran, the more people grew to accept and acknowledge the father-son team.
“People were finally starting to come up to us in races,” Dick said. “They were seeing that Rick had a great smile when we ran and a great sense of humor. They were seeing that he was just a normal guy.”
Five years later, and with many miles under their belt, “Team Hoyt” applied for the Boston Marathon. They were turned down due to Rick’s disabilities. Unfazed by this obstacle, the father-son team chose to run without registration.
“I hit my wall at mile 22 and I felt terrible,” Dick said. “I walked about the last 100 yards to the finish.”
In their first ever marathon, “Team Hoyt” finished the race in an astonishing three hours and 18 minutes. For the next two years, the team applied and was denied official entrance into the Boston Marathon repeatedly.
“We were told we didn’t have the criteria to compete in the marathon,” Dick said. “What they really meant was they didn’t want a disabled person competing … They were using Rick’s age to determine the qualifying time, which meant we had to qualify at two hours and 50 minutes. So that fall, we went to the Marine Marathon in Arlington, Virginia, and we ran.”
Dick and his son crossed the finish line in Arlington in two hours, 45 minutes, and 23 seconds. While pushing his 95 lb son in a wheelchair, Dick completed a marathon running at a 6 minute mile pace—a pace that many men half his age could not sustain.
“We took our certificates, we went to Boston, and we registered as official runners in the marathon,” Dick said.
This was only one of many obstacles “Team Hoyt” would overcome. In 1992, the team completed a full 3,735 mile race across the country in 45 days. Against all expectations, they not only completed the race, but finished it without taking a single day off. The next morning, the team was on the road again, headed off to complete a marathon in Vermont. Dick was determined not only to run, but bike and swim with Rick. He soon began preparing for a triathlon, starting at the key fundamentals: learning to swim and ride a bike.
“At the time, I didn’t know how to swim, I had not rode a bike since I was six, and here we were, signing up for a triathlon in nine months,” Dick said.
Against impossible odds, Dick completed the triathlon with his son, pulling Rick in a boat with a bungee cord attached to his vest while he swam, riding with Rick in a special two-seater bicycle, and pushing him in a custom made running wheel chair. The team has since competed in over 270 triathlons, including six Iron Man triathlons.
“Rick was the first disabled person to ever compete and finish an Iron Man triathlon in the world,” Dick said. “Now, because of his efforts, there is a physically challenged division in the triathlon.”
“Team Hoyt” is now averaging between 20 and 25 races per year. This April, you can find the father-son team passing Linden Lane as they run down Comm. Ave. in their 31st Boston Marathon.
“I almost forgot!” Dick told the audience, after receiving a rapturous standing ovation. “My vegetable has become a bronze statue.”
Thirty-six years since “Team Hoyt” began, a bronze statue is now being erected out front of Hopkinton’s Center School, honoring the father-son team. The statue can be seen at the starting line of the Boston Marathon, which “Team Hoyt” has now crossed 30 times.