The accomplishments of Team Hoyt–Rick Hoyt, a 51-year-old non-verbal, spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy, who uses a wheelchair, and his 72-year-old father, Dick–may have been overshadowed by the recent tragedy that occurred at the Boston Marathon on April 15, yet it is an accomplishment worth every honorable mention.
The father-and-son race duo were recently honored with a life-sized bronze statue that was unveiled at the starting line of the Boston Marathon a week prior to the event, which was to be be Team Hoyt’s 31st–and last–time running in the marathon. The statue is a testament of their legacy in the history of the Boston Marathon, and it captures father and son doing what they’ve done together for more than 30 years.
When Rick was born, doctors told Dick Hoyt that his son had brain damage so severe he would be a “vegetable” and live in an institution for the rest his life. The son who doctors deemed would be a “vegetable” went on to graduate from high school and college and has participated alongside his father in nearly 1,100 race events.
Obviously, Rick’s parents took the doctors’ grim prognosis with a grain of salt.
“They said, ‘Forget Rick, put him away, put him in an institution, he’s going to be a vegetable for the rest of his life,'” recalled Dick Hoyt, who lives in Holland, Massachusetts. “Today he’s 51 years old and we still haven’t figured out what kind of vegetable he is — and guess what? That vegetable has been turned into a bronze statue.”
Although Rick couldn’t talk or use his limbs, his parents didn’t think twice about taking him swimming, camping, and skiing with his two younger brothers. He attended public schools and graduated from both high school and college. Today, Rick lives independently on his own, with the assistance of personal care aides.
During a college basketball game, Rick found out a charity road race that was being held to raise funds to pay medical bills for a student that was left paralyzed from the waist down after being in an accident.
“Rick came home from that basketball game and he said, ‘Dad, I have to do something for him. I want to let him know that life goes on even though he’s paralyzed. I want to run in the race,'” Dick said.
Then 40 years old, Dick was no runner. Yet when he saw how the excitement on Rick’s face, he couldn’t say no. Dick ran in the 5-mile race, pushing Rick in a box-shaped, heavy chair.
“We came in next to last, but not last,” said Dick. “When we got home that night, Rick wrote on his computer, ‘Dad when I’m running, it feels like my disability disappears’ — which was a very powerful message to me. …But at the end of the race, I was disabled. I could hardly walk for two weeks after that. … I knew we needed to have a chair built.”
They had a chair specially designed for them and the duo continued training and running together. They have completed 252 triathlons to date–which include six Ironman-distance races– 155 5K races, 94 half-marathons, and 70 marathons.
Dick had to deal with his share of naysayers when he and Rick began racing more than 30 years ago. “I used to get letters and phone calls saying, ‘What are you doing dragging your son to all these races? Are you just looking for glory for yourself?'” he recalled. “What they didn’t realize was that he was dragging me to all these races!”
Although Team Hoyt were stopped from completing this year’s Boston Marathon when the bombs exploded before they could finish, both father and son have pledged to run the marathon one more time in 2014 as their final Boston Marathon run, and they’re signed up for an additional 25 races in 2013.
In a video series entitled Every Runner Has a Reason from Dick’s Sporting Goods store, Rick communicated his story through a computer connected to a voice sensitizer.
“It gives me a great feeling inside to see other families run with their family member with a disability, or for people without disabilities to push people who are disabled in races,” Rick said. “We run for the people who think they can’t run.”