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Dads Rock: Dick Hoyt

Rick has been asked what he’d most like to do if he wasn’t disabled. “The thing I'd most like is for my dad to sit in the chair and I would push him for once."

Rick has been asked what he’d most like to do if he wasn’t disabled. “The thing I'd most like is for my dad to sit in the chair and I would push him for once."

Published June 2012 in baysyateparent magazine

You may have seen them at the Boston Marathon, the barrel-chested father pushing his 125- pound quadriplegic son in a wheelchair, cheered on by fans and fellow runners. Their presence elicits both cheers and tears from bystanders, who witness with awe the dad who has competed with his disabled son in over 1,075 running events in the past 33 years. This past April, Dick and Rick Hoyt completed their 30th Boston Marathon– a significant milestone in a life that is paved with devotion, determination, and defying the words “No, you can’t.”

It’s been a long journey from January 10, 1962, when Rick was born a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy, deprived of oxygen at birth from a tangled umbilical cord. Doctors told the young Hoyts that their son had no hope of a normal life.

“The doctors told us to put him in an institution. We decided no, we weren’t going to do that. We decided instead to bring the world to Rick,” says Dick.

As Rick developed, his parents noticed that although his physical body was impaired, he was alert and aware – far from a “vegetable” as doctors had called him.

“We could tell by looking in Rick’s eyes that he understood everything we were saying.  We taught him the alphabet and numbers and did a lot of reading with him.” says Dick.

Rick joined his two younger brothers, Rob and Russell, in everything the family did. Dick emphasizes that he and his wife never “babied” Rick because of his disability.

“We treated all the boys the same, as much as was possible,” he says. “All three of them ended up doing everything together as kids.”

The boys invented a way of communicating with Rick, by reciting the alphabet one letter at a time until Rick would respond, spelling out words.

Yet the local public school would not admit Rick without a better way for him to communicate.  The Hoyts turned to engineers at Tufts University, raised $5,000, and funded the development of the Tufts Interactive Communicator [called the TIC], which allowed Rick to use his head movement to tap out words and phrases.

As Rick tapped out his first phrase, his parents debated over what he’d say.

“His mother thought it was going to be ‘Hi Mom,’ and I thought it was going to be ‘Hi Dad,’ but Rick’s first words, were “Go Bruins!” We knew right then and there that he understood everything, and that he loved sports,” says Dick.

With the help of his new TIC, Rick was able to enter high school at the age of 13. He graduated high school, and went on to get a degree in Special Education from Boston University in 1993.

When Rick was in high school, he wanted to take part in a 5-mile road race to benefit a local college athlete who’d been paralyzed in an auto accident. According to Dick, Rick wanted the player to know that life goes on, that he could have hope.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Dick recalls. “Everybody thought that Rick and I would just go to the corner, not finish the whole five miles.”

The Hoyts finished the race, and that night, Rick tapped out a message on his TIC that would alter the course of his life. He wrote, “Dad, when I’m running it feels like I’m not handicapped.”

“That was a very powerful message for me,” recalls Dick.

After the race, Dick knew he wanted to “loan Rick my arms and legs so he could compete in other races.”

“The only problem was, now I was the one that was disabled,” recalls Dick. “I was 40 years old and out of shape. I was sore for weeks after that race.”

The father-son “Team Hoyt” began running races, but most of the time race directors didn’t want them to compete. Dick says that some people thought he was being selfish, pushing his handicapped son in races. “They thought I was doing it for me. They didn’t understand Rick was the one wanting to race,” he says.

In addition to the Boston Marathon, Team Hoyt has completed to date over 1,075 road races, half marathons, marathons, duathlons, and triathlons, including six Ironman triathlons.

Rick and Dick were recently inducted into the Ironman Hall of Fame.  “Because of Rick’s efforts being the first disabled person in the world to complete the Ironman in Hawaii, they now have a physically challenged division,” says Dick proudly.

In 1992, Team Hoyt biked and ran across the United States, clocking 3,735 miles in 45 days. “Everybody said that was impossible. Even people who had done it themselves,” says Dick.

In 1989, the Hoyts formed the Hoyt Foundation, which strives to build the individual character, self-confidence and self-esteem of America’s disabled young people through inclusion in all facets of daily life, including family, community, sports, at home, in schools, and in the workplace.

“Our motto is, “Yes you can. There’s no such word as ‘no’ in the Hoyt vocabulary,” says Dick.

His advice to dads of children with special needs?

“Just go out and do the best you can and get advice. Take it day by day. And spend valuable time with them— that’s the most important thing,” he says.

The inspiration that Team Hoyt has brought to individuals around the world keeps growing.

“I never thought 34 years ago when Rick asked me to run that first race that we’d be doing this today and affecting so many people all over the world. We get emails every day from people who say our story has changed their lives,” Dick says.

“It’s just amazing what has happened. It’s a great thing.”

Take Ten with Dick Hoyt

Favorite endurance event: Running and biking across the USA with Rick in 1992. We left Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles and arrived at the Marriott Long Wharf in Boston—covering 3,770 miles in 45 straight days.

Who inspires you? Rick inspires and motivates me

One sentence to describe me: I am a very hard driven, focused person.

A proud dad moment: When Rick graduated from Boston University

Wish for my kids: For all of them to lead a happy and healthy life

What drives me nuts: Driving in traffic – I have no patience for that!!

Biggest Fear: Passing away before Rick and worrying that he will be taken care of –I have two trust funds set up for him to take care of his needs.

Something people don’t know about me: I am a very shy and emotional person.

I believe in… changing attitudes and educating others on disability awareness.  I have seen a great impact on our efforts in the area of public attitudes and disability awareness after people learn our story and I wish to continue this.

My son Rick is… a remarkable human being.

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