A father’s love for his son

It’s natural to assume that to be a part of a marathon, you need to be able to run. After all, a marathon is for running, and to run one must have a functioning pair of legs. But 52-year-old Rick Hoyt has participated in 70 marathons, 247 triathlons and a total of 1077 racing events without taking a single step. And he’s been doing it for more than 30 years thanks to his dad, Dick Hoyt. Their story is a testament to a father’s love for his son and the steely determination of 2 men who beat the odds.

In 1962, Dick and Judy Hoyt received some of the most devastating news that a parent can get: their new born baby boy, Rick, was diagnosed as a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy. They were advised to institutionalize Rick, because, experts reasoned, there was no hope he would ever lead a ‘normal’ life.

But the Hoyt’s were not ready to give up on their son, perhaps because Rick’s keenly intelligent eyes followed them around the room and showed signs of cognizance, perhaps also, because of a parent’s innate ability to overcome any obstacle for the sake of their child. So Dick and Judy fought for Rick to be included in the world. They taught him the alphabet and some basic words just like any other child. They took him sledding and swimming to integrate sports into his life. And soon, Rick’s abilities began to shine through.

In 1972, when Rick was 10 years old, he was able to do something most of us take for granted: talk to his mum and dad. Thanks to the efforts of engineers at Tufts University, a computer was built that allowed Rick to express himself and communicate with others.

The Hoyts continued their fight, proving beyond doubt that their son had capabilities that would allow him to excel. At 13 Rick was finally able to go to a public school. And it was here that he first took part in a race. When he heard of a 5-mile benefit run for a student who was paralysed from an accident, Rick told his father that he wanted to participate. So Dick pushed his son on a wheelchair all through 5 miles to the finish line, even though he was far from being a long distance runner. What changed the course of their lives, were the words that Rick spoke that night, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.”

That was 35 years ago. The father-son duo has raced hundreds of races since then, including 6 Ironman triathlons. In the triathlons, Dick pulls his son through the water, swimming with a bungee cord that attaches him to Rick’s boat; for the biking stage, they run a special 2-seater bicycle and for the running part of the race, Dick pushes Rick in his specially made running chair. And in 1992 they ran across the United States, completing some 3,735 miles in just 45 days.

Throughout their lives, the Hoyts have worked to raise awareness for the handicapped. Rick’s own words convey the spirit of this remarkable father and son, “The message of Team Hoyt is that everybody should be included in everyday life.” The Hoyt Foundation, Inc was established with that aim in mind. It aspires 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’. Rick’s own journey is testament to that goal. In 1993, he graduated from Boston University with a degree in Special Education.

After serving 37 years for his country, Dick Hoyt retired as a Lt. Colonel from the Air National Guard in 1995. And he still wishes to push his son in marathons well into his 70s. Neither of them is ready to retire yet.

What does Rick wish most of all for his dad? “The thing I’d like most is for my dad to sit in the chair, and I would push him for once.”