June 27, 2013

Dick Hoyt Gives Disabled Son Rick a Wonderful RideThrough Life

After enjoying a rare Father's Day with my own Dad, I thought I'd share the story of one of my favorite Dad heroes here.  I hesitate to rewrite his story, as it is told very well on the blog that sponsors their work.  But I need to at least touch on the finer points, as their son Rick is about my age.  I can't help but put myself in his shoes and feel gratitude for the experiences Dick has brought to him.

After a rough birth, Judy Hoyt and her husband Dick were dismayed to learn that their newborn son was going to be disabled.  Because of a lack of oxygen during the birth, little Rick Hoyt was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and would be confined to a wheel chair.  Facing this devastating news, Dick and Judy were encouraged to put Rick into an institution where he could be cared for by professionals.  Realizing that doing so would be equivalent to giving him away, they refused.  Instead they chose to train themselves to care for him as well as the professionals.  And they tried to give him a 'normal' childhood, as normal as they could.

Note that Rick was born in 1962 when disabilities were still hidden and normalcy was championed.  That's a nice way of saying that people still gawked at disabled people in public and many times shunned them from society.  There were very few if any disabled people enrolled in public schools because bullying was rampant and regarded as a rite of passage, even a necessary part of growing up.  Parents of children like Rick had few options-- institutionalize or do it all themselves at home.  As they were unable to enroll him in public schools, Dick and Judy did taught him at home.  Judy taught him the alphabet with sandpaper letters and labelled everything in the house with its name. 

Rick was a bright boy hidden in a body that didn't work very well.  He couldn't speak and could barely control his movements.  Working with him, his parents were convinced he really had a keen mind.  They made efforts to find ways for him to communicate with them.  Contacting Tufts University, Dick and Judy arranged for a special computer to be made with a cursor and a keyboard.  A sensor was placed in a headpiece near Rick's head.  He could move the cursor to letters, then bump the sensor with his head to select a letter and form words on the screen.  At ten years old, Rick could finally communicate!  His first words?  'Go Bruins!'  The family had been watching the Stanley Cup Finals with Rick's favorite team, the Boston Bruins. 

As Ricks intelligence became more and more apparent now that he could communicate, the family continued to work toward his enrollment in public schools.  Those efforts paid off when Rick was 13 and he was finally accepted.

A few years later, Rick told his father that he wanted to participate in a benefit run to help a lacrosse player who had recently become paralyzed in a terrible accident.  Dick was not a runner, but agreed to push Rick in a wheelchair through the 5 mile race.  Completing the race second to last, Dick was amazed when Rick told him how much he enjoyed being in the race.  Rick made a pivotal statement, words that changed Dick's life forever:

"Dad, when I'm running, I feel like I'm not handicapped."

Those words had a huge impact on Dick.  He finally had a way to help his disabled son feel freed from his handicaps.  Even if it was just for a few minutes at a time, when Dick ran pushing Rick in a wheelchair, Rick felt normal.  Dick did what a great dad will do for his child:  he made it happen as often as he could.

Thirty-seven year old Dick began running daily pushing bags of cement (because Rick was in school,) training for whatever races in which they could run.  Starting small with 5k races, soon Dick could run longer races like Marathons with Rick.  A special three wheeled chair became Rick's favorite place as he ran with his father.  As Dick became stronger, Dick entered Triathlons,  in which participants swam, biked and ran.  For the swim portion, Rick rides in a small blow-up boat while Dick pulls it with a vest and cables attached to the boat.  Completing the swim, Dick scoops up Rick and buckles him into a seat in the front of a specially made bike.  From there, Dick carries Rick to his special running chair to sprint to the finish.  There is hardly anything more touching to see Dick, an aged father, running with his son in his arms.

Dick and Rick have completed over 1000 races together, including 70 Marathons, some Duathlons and 6 Ironman Triathlons.  Their personal best time in a 5K is 17 minutes!  (My best is in the 20's, and I am just running, not pushing anyone.)  They have also crossed the continent running and biking, doing so in 1992 in 45 days. 

They have run the Boston Marathon 30 times!  My husband Scott ran it twice; it's a challenging race.  I can't imagine how hard it would have been for him to push over 100 pounds the whole time!  And Dick has done that 30 times!

Just prior to the Boston Marathon in April 2013, a bronze statue was dedicated to them.  Later, when they were running the Boston Marathon, the bombs went off when they were one mile from the finish line.  Neither were injured, although they were caught up in the confusion and disappointment as were the other runners. 

With his family's support, Rick completed high school and went on to graduate from Boston University with a degree in Special Education.  He taught courses at Boston College for a while.

Dick's favorite statement is, "Yes, You Can!"  He taught that to his son and lives it with every race they run. 

Now that Dick is 73 and Rick 51, they have lessened their race schedule, while increasing their speaking schedule.  Together they make a very motivational team as they speak to school students and business groups. Their goal is to educate people about living with disabilities, but they teach so much more.   They can show that, with determination and support, people can do amazing things. And that a father's love changes lives.

When Rick was asked what he could give his father, he said, "The thing I'd most like is for my dad to sit in the chair and I would push him for once."

I can't help but admire this wonderful man, Dick Hoyt, for the sacrifices he made to give his disabled son Rick a good life.  It's amazing to see this over 70 year old man, a really old man by society's standards, running a Marathon while pushing his son.  When you question if you can do something hard, remember Dick Hoyt.  Yes, you really CAN do it.

Watch 'Can,' the inspirational video telling their story.  It can be seen at www.teamhoyt.com.  Have kleenex handy.

Photo courtesy of AMS vans found at blog.amsvans.com


Team Hoyt.  Wikipedia.  30 May 2013.  Accessed 26 June 2013.  Web.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Team_Hoyt

Team Hoyt.  2012.  Accessed 26 June 2013.  Web.  www.teamhoyt.com. 

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