“A wildly inspirational dynamic duo.”
Upon arriving at his home in rustic Holland, MA I anticipated seeing Dick Hoyt burst out of a phone booth, wearing tights, a super hero's cape and an "S" emblazoned across his chest. Much to my surprise, though not really, I found him dressed in a Team Hoyt t-shirt, running pants and sneakers, sweeping grass clippings off his drive way.
My thought being, of course, that if any man is truly faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, or able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, it's the elder half of the world renowned Team Hoyt.
Like a story out of Marvel comics, this real life superhero not only competes in triathlons while pushing, pulling and pedaling his 145-pound son Rick, but also carries the hope, the dreams and the heart of countless others on his broad shoulders through his efforts.
With his faithful side kick, Rick, the dynamic duo, known as Team Hoyt, is an inspiration to every special needs and able bodied athlete who is familiar with their story. Through their message of "Yes, You Can," they motivate and bring inspiration and hope to millions around the globe.
"We receive over 125 emails a day," explains Dick. "Some of them will make you cry. We get letters and emails from people who are distraught; some who were ready to kill themselves, but have gained new hope after seeing what Rick and I do."
Dick and Rick's story is truly one of superhuman love and devotion between a father and a son and in countless chapters of their never ending story, they have had to overcome challenges that would leave lesser men waving the white flag.
Their story is told as follows on their popular website .
"Rick was born in 1962 to Dick and Judy Hoyt. 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. 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.
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 soon realized that though Rick couldn't walk or speak; he was quite astute and his eyes would follow them around the room. They 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, and even taught him the alphabet and basic words, 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.
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 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. He has since attended high school, as well as attended Boston University, where he graduated with a degree in Special Education in 1993.
In the spring of 1977, Rick told his father that he wanted to participate in a 5-mile benefit run for a Lacrosse player who had been paralyzed in an accident. Far from being a long-distance runner, Dick agreed to push Rick in his wheelchair."
Race organizers believed that Dick and Rick would only make it as far as the first corner and then turn around. Much to their surprise, Team Hoyt finished the race, coming in next to last.
"At least we didn't come in last," recalls Hoyt.
That night, Rick told his father, "Dad, when I'm running, it feels like I'm not handicapped."
Upon hearing those word's, Dick Hoyt turned his son's wishes into a passion and a commitment that Rick would never again feel that he was handicapped. As of September, 2011, The Hoyt's have competed in:
234 Triathlons (6 Ironman distances, 7 Half Ironman)
67 Marathons (29 Boston Marathons)
8 18.6 Milers
89 Half Marathons
35 10 Milers
31 Falmouth 7.1 Milers
151 5 Milers
18 4 Milers
8 20 Milers
Their total of 1,051 races to date is made even more incredible by the fact that Team Hoyt's times are often better than many able bodied runners.
"We usually beat the guys in my age group who are running on their own," he laughs modestly.
"People often ask me if they can take my place when I decide to retire. I don't think there are many who could do what I do." explained Dick, who retired in 1995 as a Lt. Colonel from the Air National Guard, after serving his country for 37 years.
In addition to their 1,051 races, Team Hoyt spent a portion of 1992 pedaling and running across the US. They completed their 3,753 mile journey in 45 days, averaging 83 miles a day.
Dick and Judy Hoyt's marriage ended about the time of this journey, as she felt alienated and frustrated, wondering if Dick pushes Rick more than he wants. Rick has something to say when his willingness to race is questioned.
“I tell you the truth, it was my idea to begin running with my dad. I do see my role as the inspiration of Team Hoyt. Also, I was overwhelmed with a sense of happiness that I could show that life goes on beyond disability," Rick said.
While competing in the triathlon, Dick pulls Rick in a boat with a bungee cord attached to a vest around his waist and to the front of the boat for the 2.4 mile swimming stage. For the biking stage, which covers 112 miles, the duo rides a special two-seat bicycle, and then Dick pushes Rick in his custom made running chair for the 26.2 mile run.
"The biking portion is definitely the most difficult stage. We pedal my 175-pound frame, along with Rick's 125 pounds and a 76-pound bike. Most riders use a bike that weighs about 14 pounds and only have themselves," Dick said.
Dick actually couldn't swim prior to entering his first triathlon. He showed me the dock on the shores of Hamilton Reservoir where he learned to swim.
Several times during our interview, both Dick and I had to fight back tears as he spoke of their many challenges, moral victories and painful defeats.
Just last summer, Dick had to have surgery after it was discovered that he had been running with a hernia.
"I was having difficulty breathing while I ran, so decided I better have it checked out. Sure enough, the hernia was right here," he explained pointing to his navel.
In addition to their full schedule of competition, Team Hoyt travels the country giving motivational speeches to corporations and groups. The two speak of overcoming obstacles, their training schedule and their "Yes, You Can" message.
"I think we have become more popular outside Massachusetts than we are near home. We literally get communication from around the globe," Dick said.
One such email that Dick and his office manager, Kathy Boyer, shared with me comes from John Young, a triathlete from nearby Salem, MA.
Dick and Rick,
I emailed you a couple of years ago to tell you how much your story meant to me. Well, I feel it is time to give you a bit of an update. I am a 43 year old married man with a beautiful wife and 6 year old son. All of us have achondroplasia which is a type of dwarfism.
After dealing with a pretty serious back problem two years ago, I continued to ride my bike and swim. I was considering competing in a sprint triathlon but have always had a real problem running. Due to the type of dwarfism I have, there is a lot of pressure on my lower back and running is usually quite difficult.
Well, after getting a new bike this spring (my wife really wanted her's back) I continued to ride and swim and found out about the Aquabike division in the USAT and I actually competed in one up in Lowell, MA three weeks ago. It was an amazing time. All the while in the swim I could hear my six year old son yelling, "GO DADDY!".
Before my race he used his hands and transferred all of his "speed" from his shoes to me for the race. Well I finished near the bottom (of the pack not the river), but I finished. And like the message you both hope people get from what you do, I wanted my son to see that is not winning or losing that matters, but the fact that you simply try your best.
Well, I thought long and hard, and I have decided to enter the "Witch City Triathlon" this weekend in the town where I live, Salem, MA. It is a sprint distance again, and I am going to do the 3 mile run along with the 1/2 mile swim and 13 mile bike.
I have been doing some running and today finished 3 miles in the hot sun in about 51 minutes. Certainly not fast, but I did it.
Thanks for all you do. You both certainly helped motivate me to go out and do it.
Wish me luck. All the best, John Young
In 1989, the Hoyts created The Hoyt Foundation, a non-profit organization whose goal is 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 in family and community activities, especially sports, at home, in schools, and in the workplace.
The foundation also provides advice and support to groups and individuals who share this mission. To date, the Hoyt Foundation has partnered with several organizations to show support for their cause through donations. Amongst them are The Easter Seals, The Pioneer Valley Therapeutic Riding Association, and The Challenged Athlete Foundation.
And if that isn't enough to elevate Team Hoyt to the level of super hero status, they opened Hoyt's Finish Line Restaurant last June. The Finish Line is located about a quarter-mile from Dick's home on the shores of Hamilton Reservoir and is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
But what the Hoyt's love most is the thrill of competing and motivating the throngs of fans, which line the races that they run.
“He motivates and inspires me. He’s a very tough guy, and he doesn’t let his disability get in the way of things he likes to do. I just feel now that Rick is the athlete and I’m but there just loaning him my arms and my legs so we can compete together,” Dick said.
As we wrapped up our conversation, I asked him through it all what his proudest moment has been.
"I think it would have to be that so many told us that they wouldn't even allow us to compete because I was able bodied and Rick was disabled. They'd look at us and tell me 'You can compete, but your son can't.' Well we were recently inducted into the Iron Man Triathlon Hall of Fame in Kona, Hawaii. Rick was the 26th member ever inducted and I was 27th. That makes us feel awfully special."
"I'm also very proud of the fact that Rick got his degree from Boston University and lives on his own. He may even begin to go out on his own and do motivational speaking without me. That makes me so proud."
As we concluded he told me one final story about Rick.
"Rick was once asked, if he could give his father one thing, what would it be, and Rick said, 'The thing I'd most like is for my dad to sit in the chair and I would push him for once.'"
And yet again the two real life superheroes fly up, up and away.