At a recent Monday Meeting, Rick Hoyt and his father Dick spoke to Thayer’s Upper School students about the athletic adventures they had been undertaking over the last thirty-six years. Rick and Dick are a long-distance running team, and an unusual one at that, because Rick, a quadriplegic, is confined to a wheelchair. If you are a fan of the Boston Marathon, you’ve probably seen them in action because it is an annual moment of collective joy and regional pride when Dick Hoyt pushes his son’s chair past the Boston Public Library on Boylston Street to the finish line between Exeter and Dartmouth Streets.
From the moment Dick and Rick took the stage, every person in Thayer’s 540-seat Hale Theater was drenched in awe and dazzled by inspiration. The stories told by this remarkable father-and-son team left no doubt in anyone’s mind about the magnificent potential of the human spirit. If Mr. Hoyt and his son Rick could run marathons and triathlons (including six Ironman competitions) who could possibly fear studying for a chemistry test or writing a college essay or memorizing lines for a part in the winter play? After hearing about the Hoyt family’s journey, who had a goal they couldn’t meet or an idea they couldn’t bring to fruition?
Whether you read the rest of this article or not, you must watch this short video telling the Hoyt story through imagery and music
. You might want to pay special attention to the scenes that show Rick and his father making the transition from the swimming to the biking stage of a triathlon. If this isn’t the definition of true love, what is?
Dick and Judy Hoyt have three sons, Rick, Russel, and Robert. Their oldest son Rick suffered from oxygen deprivation to the brain at the time of his birth, and has lived for 51 years as a quadriplegic with cerebral palsy. Doctors advised Dick and Judy to institutionalize their son, but they chose instead to help him live a full life. Because Rick was at first denied access to the public school system, his mother Judy fought for his right to an education, and in addition to her many accomplishments in the field of education, she helped to pass the first special education reform law in the country, Chapter 766. Rick ended up as a successfsul student in spite of his handicap, and in 1993, he graduated from Boston University with a degree in special education.
Because of Rick’s physical limitations, he is unable to speak with his mouth, but he can communicate effectively with the help of a custom-built computer designed by a group of engineers at Tufts University. The computer allows Rick to select individual letters of the alphabet by tapping his head against the headrest on his wheelchair. It was in 1972, when Rick was ten years old, that he was finally able to formulate words, thanks to this computer, and his passion for sports became immediately clear when his first words were “Go, Bruins!”
Rick and Dick officially became Team Hoyt in the spring of 1977 when Rick convinced his father to enter them in a five-mile run. The race was held to benefit a lacrosse player who had been recently paralyzed in an accident. Rick felt such empathy for his schoolmate that the inherent challenges in his proposal didn’t even occur to him. Dick had never trained as a runner, but his son’s determination to contribute to the cause motivated him to give it a try. Dick agreed to push Rick in his wheelchair and to the surprise of many, they finished all five miles, coming in next to last. After finishing the race, Rick told his father, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.” This energized Dick to train harder and harder; to find more and more opportunities for competition.
At first, the intrepid pair ran into a series of obstacles, not from the obvious physical demands they would face, but from members of various race committees who refused to let them participate because of the so-called unfair advantage they would have over other runners. By the time they visited Thayer, Dick and Rick had not only completed well over 1,000 races but they had also crossed the United States from one coast to the other, by biking and running 3,735 miles in 45 days. One of the most incredible parts of their story is that before they entered their first triathlon (consisting of three phases: swimming, cycling, and running) Dick didn’t know how to swim. To train for the race, Dick sold their house and bought a new place on a lake so he could teach himself how to swim by doing laps back and forth along the front of their property. Dick is 73 years old, and Rick is now 51. Neither of them is ready to retire yet, but they are considering a reduction in the number of competitions they’ll enter each year. They’ll definitely run in at least one more Boston Marathon though, because the bombings that shocked the city last April prevented them from finishing the 2013 race.Read more»