Dick and Rick Hoyt are a father-and-son team from Massachusetts who together compete just about continuously in marathon races. And if they're not in a marathon they are in a triathlon — that daunting, almost superhuman, combination of 26.2 miles of running, 112 miles of bicycling, and 2.4 miles of swimming. Together they have climbed mountains, and once trekked 3,735 miles across America.
It's a remarkable record of exertion — all the more so when you consider that Rick can't walk or talk.
For the past twenty five years or more inspirational speaker Dick Hoyt, who is 71, has pushed and pulled his son across the country and over hundreds of finish lines. When Dick runs, Rick is in a wheelchair that Dick is pushing. When Dick cycles, Rick is in the seat-pod from his wheelchair, attached to the front of the bike. When Dick swims, Rick is in a small but heavy, firmly stabilized boat being pulled by Dick.
At Rick's birth in 1962 the umbilical cord coiled around his neck and cut off oxygen to his brain. Dick and his wife, Judy, were told that there would be no hope for their child's development.
It's been a story of exclusion ever since he was born, Dick told me. When he was eight months old the doctors told us we should just put him away — he'd be a vegetable all his life, that sort of thing. Well those doctors are not alive any more, but I would like them to be able to see Rick now.
The couple brought their son home determined to raise him as normally as possible. Within five years, Rick had two younger brothers and the Hoyts were convinced Rick was just as intelligent as his siblings. Dick remembers the struggle to get the local school authorities to agree: Because he couldn't talk they thought he wouldn't be able to understand, but that wasn't true. The dedicated parents taught Rick the alphabet. We always wanted Rick included in everything, Dick said. That's why we wanted to get him into public school.
A group of Tufts University engineers came to the rescue, once they had seen some clear, empirical evidence of Rick's comprehension skills. They told him a joke, said Dick. Rick just cracked up. They knew then that he could communicate! The engineers went on to build — using $5,000 the family managed to raise in 1972 - an interactive computer that would allow Rick to write out his thoughts using the slight head-movements that he could manage. Rick came to call it my communicator. A cursor would move across a screen filled with rows of letters, and when the cursor highlighted a letter that Rick wanted, he would click a switch with the side of his head.
When the computer was originally brought home, Rick surprised his family with his first spoken words. They had expected perhaps "Hi, Mom" or "Hi, Dad." But on the screen Rick wrote "Go Bruins." The Boston Bruins were in the Stanley Cup finals that season, and his family realized he had been following the hockey games along with everyone else. So we learned then that Rick loved sports, said Dick.
In 1975, Rick was finally admitted into a public school. Two years later, he told his father he wanted to participate in a five-mile benefit run for a local lacrosse player who had been paralyzed in an accident. Dick, far from being a long-distance runner, agreed to push Rick in his wheelchair. They finished next to last, but they felt they had achieved a triumph. That night, Dick remembers, Rick told us he just didn't feel handicapped when we were competing.
Rick's realization turned into a whole new set of horizons that opened up for him and his family, as Team Hoyt began to compete in more and more events. Rick reflected on the transformation process for me, using his now-familiar but ever-painstaking technique of picking out letters of the alphabet:
"What I mean when I say I feel like I am not handicapped when competing is that I am just like the other athletes, and I think most of the athletes feel the same way. In the beginning nobody would come up to me."
Today motivational speakr Dick Hoyt travels the world sharing this heart warming story.
One of the many ways Team Hoyt strives to educate the public about people living with disabilities is through inspirational speaking engagements.
Dick Hoyt has prepared a one hour multimedia presentation about his story with his son, Rick, and how they continue to participate in marathons and triathlons all over the country.
Dick's message has been delivered to all different types of audiences from students to athletes, to huge corporations. Regardless of the size of the group or the industry they work in, the message is universal: "Yes You Can!"
Team Hoyt is simply a story of hope and working hard for what you believe in.
Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States of America
"Dick, I have fond memories of meeting you. Through the dedication of Team Hoyt, a much needed awareness of the rights of handicapped persons will be brought to America. Nancy joins me in sending our warmest appreciation to you and our congratulations for your humanitarian and civic-minded service. God bless you."
Bobby Orr, NHL Hockey Great
"This is more than a story of a father's love, though it certainly speaks to all fathers, this one included. It's also a story of courage, the kind any of us could be called upon to demonstrate in our own lives. And if we were, we'd have two wonderful examples to follow in Dick and Rick Hoyt, both of whom I am proud to call friends."
Danya, a mother to a son with cerebral palsy
"Today, I watched a show called Amazing Families and saw your story. I just wanted to say 'thanks' to your whole family. I am very aware that it is because of people like yourselves, who fought before us to get acceptance in the real world, that our struggles are less. Yes, I do have to be vigilant and fight for my son to have what he needs, but because others have done it before us, it is easier. Now I can go into a school meeting and say, 'Zachary will go to college. Look at Rick Hoyt, he did it, and so will Zach.' You have helped me to affirm that anything is possible if you are willing to be creative and work hard..."
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